Redwood Motel team aims to blend motor court feel, nature

Ben Svenson, right, and North Adams Mayor Richard Alcombright admire the river habitat adjacent to the Redwood Motel on Friday. Svenson is part of the team that aims to re-create the motel to harken back to the days of the 1960s motor court, but with a modern focus on the area's natural surroundings.

NORTH ADAMS — John Stirratt knows hotels.

As the bass player for the band Wilco, Stirratt spends most of the year on the road — and he prefers to stay in old-time motor courts.

So he's right at home as a member of the team working to recreate the Redwood Motel.

"He is fascinated by what does work and what doesn't work in a hotel," said Ben Svenson, a developer in the project, estimated to cost about $2.5 million.

Stirratt has seen lots of old motor courts and how some have been re-created and "turned on their ear," Svenson said.

The team is hoping to recapture the charm and feel of the classic American motor courts of the 1950s and 1960s when "motoring" was a popular pastime.

But inside, the rooms will be a more modern experience.

The concept is to take the Redwood, once a proud part of the Mohawk Trail scenic route that was so popular in the mid-to-late 1900s, and transform it into motel that has the same look and feel. But the inside — with the use of windows and decks — has the ambiance of a modern accommodation that encourages the guest to interact with the natural environment on the shores of the Hoosic River.

"We're trying to do something that plays with the limitations of the old-time motor courts," Svenson said.

There will be trails and access to the river for fishing and boating, complete with an open-air shed and a fire pit. Kayaks and canoes will be available, as well as a riverside pool.

But the establishment will eschew some modern conveniences.

"No TVs, but great WiFi," Svenson said, noting that the market they appeal to will use the WiFi network to stream video content and watch what they like when they have time.

The Redwood was purchased for $350,000 by Beyond Place LLC on April 15. On the development team are Svenson and his brother Eric Svenson, and Dana Nielsen of Broder Properties. Scott Stedman of Brooklyn Magazine, Stirratt, and local project manager Eric Kerns round out the team.

The architectural design is being done by Simeon Bruner of Bruner/Cott Architects, who counts the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art as one of his past projects.

The first phase of the work will include demolition of the eight-room wing closest to the road and the garage behind the motel.

The remaining 11-room wing will be completely renovated. Glass doors and a deck will be installed on the back side of the original structure, offering better views and opportunities to interact with the forest. Site preparation and the installation of a pool and poolhouse/boathouse will also come early in the project. Svenson said the early phases will be done and ready for business by the tourist season in 2016.

Next would be the construction of three new buildings, behind the original structure, increasing what is now 19 rooms to about 40 rooms. They will also feature views of the forest and riverside.

Working with the state Department of Conservation and Recreation, Svenson said, developers hope to increase access to the river by clearing some of the brush to allow for a for special events like wedding ceremonies and another area to be used as campsites.

"We want people to have access to the river, and that's what they want too," Svenson said.

Svenson and Kerns noted that the open-air shed would be shifted to the east and reoriented so it faces the clearing that leads to the riverside trails. The shed would be used for hanging out, small parties, and even serve as a stage for picnic entertainment.

Svenson noted that he has been in talks with North Adams Mayor Richard Alcombright for more than a year. He said Alcombright has been very welcoming, and an important part of the team by giving them the information they needed to work with the city and state on the use of the riverside property.

As for a name, Svenson and Kerns said that discussion is ongoing.

"We really, really don't have a name for it yet," Svenson said chuckling.

Nevertheless, he and the rest of the team have been committed to the idea since even before they learned about other major neighboring developments like the Greylock Mill project a proposed modern art museum right around the corner from the Redwood.

And Svenson is anxious to start. He likes to do the work himself, as does much of the rest of the team.

"Our intention is to do it all ourselves and do it right," he said. "And I just can't wait to get my hands dirty."