STOCKBRIDGE — An eight-year effort to develop a 112-room, $75 million resort on the historic Elm Court property off Old Stockbridge Road is over.
Front Yard LLC, which had been working with Denver-based Travaasa Experiential Resorts to develop the site, has placed the 89-acre property on the market for an asking price of $12.5 million.
Most of it is in Stockbridge, but 3 acres of road frontage and an entrance are in Lenox.
The 13-bedroom, 13-bath mansion occupies 20,851 square feet and has been renovated extensively since Front Yard purchased it in 2012 for $9.8 million from the Berle family, descendants of the original owners. But, additional restoration is required.
The company was unable to secure financing for the project at a time when the area’s hospitality industry might be overbuilt. Elm Court was embroiled in a lawsuit by neighbors for several years until late in 2017, another major, costly roadblock for the developers.
“I wish they had gone through with it,” said Stockbridge Select Board Chairman Ernest “Chuckie” Cardillo. “But, they did what they had to do financially.”
“It’s unfortunate, but we’re in unusual times right now,” said Stockbridge Select Board member Roxanne McCaffrey. “It would have been beneficial for the tax base and would have provided jobs, but it’s not terribly shocking, given the times we’re in.”
She cited current circumstances, specifically the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, as a likely cause for the project’s demise.
“The town has gotten along without the project,” said Stockbridge Finance Committee member Stephen Shatz, “and it will get along quite well, notwithstanding its failure.” Shatz chaired the town’s Select Board when the special permit first was approved, in September 2014.
Adam Hawthorne, former president of Travaasa Experiential Resorts, an affiliate of the Denver-based Amstar Group LLC, a real estate investment firm, did not respond to requests for comment. Hawthorne now is listed as president of Hospitality Management and Asset Management at Amstar.
Nick Arienti, the Great Barrington attorney who has represented Front Yard/Travasaa before town boards in Lenox and Stockbridge, declined to comment when reached by The Eagle.
The listing is held by Tim Lovett, co-founder of Berkshire Property Agents, who said Elm Court is being marketed as a country retreat for a potential private buyer.
Lovett told The Eagle on Wednesday that Hawthorne worked with him on the listing, which went online Monday.
“We’ve already had multiple preliminary inquiries,” Lovett said. “We’re trying to sell it as an estate. As a historic Berkshire cottage, it’s an incredible opportunity, and we hope to draw someone interested in its history and in finishing it.”
Lovett acknowledged that purchasing the property would be a major investment in addition to the purchase price, since renovations remain to be completed. “But, it’s one of the most renowned estates in the country,” he said.
He also stated that “it’s always a possibility that it could be bought as a resort, but our major thrust is for a residential buyer.”
This past summer, the Stockbridge Select Board and the Lenox Zoning Board of Appeals granted Front Yard/Travaasa an additional two-year extension of the special permit for the resort project.
The Lenox special permit runs with the property, according to the town’s Land Use department. If new owners wanted to pursue a resort project, they would have to return to the ZBA to present any proposed changes and to review special conditions attached to the current permit.
Lovett stated that “it’s wise to keep the special permit open in case another party could step in and do what Travaasa wanted to do.”
The project was entangled in legal challenges by neighbors from August 2015 until the state Court of Appeals dismissed the lawsuit in November 2017, after a private settlement between the plaintiffs and Front Yard/Travaasa. The group had filed the appeal after the July 2017 Massachusetts Land Court ruling in favor of the developer and the town of Lenox, targets of the lawsuit.
At the Aug. 3 ZBA hearing in Lenox on the special permit extension request, Arienti, the local attorney, emphasized the ongoing open-market financing challenges facing the developer because of the coronavirus pandemic — “a real lockup of the market, primarily the type of real estate lending geared toward hospitality.”
He also noted that the initial estimated $50 million cost of the project had soared to $75 million because of the delay caused by the legal dispute and by soaring construction costs, especially the price of steel, resulting in a “substantial impact on the ability to finance. The lawsuit was a huge, huge interruption that did have consequences that we’re still dealing with.”
Barney Edmonds, one of the neighbors who filed the lawsuit, declined to comment on Travaasa’s withdrawal from the project.
The mansion was constructed in 1886 for the Vanderbilt and Sloane families of Gilded Age fame. In 1958, after 10 years of operating it as an inn, their descendants closed Elm Court and the property was abandoned for the next 40 years.
Members of the Berle family restored and reopened it in 2002 as a high-end boutique resort but closed it in 2009, during the Great Recession.
Travaasa’s special permit was for a 112-room resort, including a new 96-room annex connected to the mansion, a 15,000-square-foot spa and a 60-seat public restaurant.
The Amstar Group’s Travaasa brand previously had sold its resorts in Austin, Texas, and in Hawaii. Elm Court was its only other hospitality property. Amstar’s online portfolio lists Chicago’s Eaglewood Resort & Spa among its eight current U.S. residential, office building and industrial site investments.