Will market sustain new hotels in Williamstown?

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WILLIAMSTOWN — With three hotel proposals pending in town, some are wondering whether the local hotel market will support so many new hotel rooms.

There are others who maintain there are not enough hotel rooms for a growing demand in North County.

Kjell Truedsson, owner of the 17-room Maple Terrace Motel on Main Street, said that Airbnb is already hurting the 13 hotels and motels in town, and is concerned about the impact of three new hotels.

"We have already felt a basic market impact for the big events," Truedsson said. "And the off season is going to be a tremendous struggle."

His main concern is a proposal for a three-story, 95-room hotel at 430 Main St., just down the street from the Maple Terrace. He said other nearby hotel owners feel the same anxiety.

Then there is the resort hotel project owner Michael Deep is pursuing for Waubeeka Golf Links in South Williamstown. With up to 120 rooms and up to three stories, that would increase the total of potential new hotel rooms in town to 215.

The proposal for a new Williams Inn at the bottom of Spring Street, as it now stands, calls for roughly 65 rooms. The current Williams Inn has 125, for a net loss of about 60 rooms. That brings the potential number of new hotel rooms down to about 155.

Lauri Klefos, executive vice president at 1Berkshire, said there are already about 390 hotel rooms in Williamstown. But unlike Truedsson, Klefos believes that is not enough.

With the expansions of the Clark Art Institute and Mass MoCA, along with the continued popularity of the Williamstown Theatre Festival and the Williams College Museum of Art, more people are visiting North County, and more of them want to stay for a longer time. But because there are not enough hotel rooms, they are booking stays in South County hotels, and driving to North County from there.

"There are lots of reasons to come to Williamstown all year round now," Klefos said. "The demand is there. The number of visitors has been trending up for a few years now. That's why the renewed interest in developing hospitality properties and attractions is really exciting."

Vicki Saltzman, director of communications at the Clark Art Institute, agrees with that assessment, and says there are more hotels proposed because there are more people seeking hotel rooms in the area.

"What you're seeing is a reflection how much North County offers now," she said. "Now there's no way you're going to visit Northern Berkshire and leave after a day. The market is responding to that."

Saltzman noted that the three hotels proposed are very different types of offerings, with different price points and amenities, which she says is appropriate, given the market.

"I think there is room for a variety of price points and a variety of hotel experiences," she said. "When it comes to hotels, one size does not fit all."

And, she pointed out, the more people staying in town overnight, the more money they will spend in shops and restaurants.

"The more foot traffic the better," Saltzman said. "It drives the economy."

Joseph Thompson, director of Mass MoCA, said visitors can't take in all of Mass MoCA in a couple of hours anymore. And when the expansion opens this spring, a day might not be long enough. The same is true for the Clark's recent campus expansion.

Now many are taking a couple days or more to visit the attractions in the Northern Berkshires, but they are doing it from hotels in other towns, he noted.

"They're coming from Manchester (Vt.) and Lenox, hit the Clark, or Mass MoCA, then high tail it back out of town," Thompson said. "It's getting harder and harder to find hotel rooms here, even in the shoulder seasons. People are having to make a choice, and that's driving the demand."

He noted that an overnight visitor will spend six to seven times more money in town than a day tripper would.

"So having more demand for overnight accommodations is just good news," he said. "The challenge now is that there are never enough rooms on almost any weekend in June, July and August. And we've seen a gradual increase in mid-week and off-season attendance."

Sarah Eustis, CEO of Main Street Hospitality, operates The Porches in North Adams, the Williams Inn, Hotel On North in Pittsfield and the Red Lion Inn in Stockbridge, the increased interest in hotel development in Williamstown reflects the increasing demand.

"In the last few years, there has certainly been enthusiasm for hotel development in Berkshire County and I find that promising," she said. "It's exciting, but it may present some challenges as well."

Eustis said more hotels result in increased competition, forcing those in hospitality to get better at what they do, although the market can sustain different types of hotels. Countywide, she added, there is an annual average occupancy rate of 54 percent.

"There is a continuum of different products, from mom and pop operations to luxury experiences, and demand is ticking up in North County," she noted. "If these properties have unique offerings and quality experiences, then they will do well. I think there are opportunities in North County."

Waubeeka owner Michael Deep said he isn't concerned by the other hotel proposals, as his target customer would not likely stay in other local hotel offerings.

Fred Puddester, who is overseeing the development of a new Williams Inn, said that business model caters mostly to college oriented hotel guests.

The hotel proposed for Main Street, he said, would be appealing to college oriented guests during periods when the Williams Inn can't hold all of the town's visitors.

"I would guess it's complimentary, not competition," said Puddester, who is vice president of finance and administration at Williams College.

And the analysis the college conducted shows the new Williams Inn will have a healthy occupation rate throughout the year, he added.

Meanwhile, Truedsson said his occupancy rate at the Maple Terrace during the summer hotel season is about 80 percent, but that falls to about 45 percent during the off season. He says Maple Terrace averages about 60 percent occupancy annually, but it used to be closer to 70 percent.

And he feels that if all the hotel proposals come to fruition, some of these existing hotels will be at risk.

"It ain't cheap doing business in Williamstown," he said, "so it could hurt badly. It is a risk to our livelihood."


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