Blantyre resort seeks $90M expansion
LENOX — In a bid for a larger slice of the tourism and second-home pie that seems to grow larger every year, the owners of the historic 1902 Blantyre resort want to nearly triple the hotel's room count.
The plan is to grow from 24 rooms to 69 rooms by adding 45 additional rooms in a new building, constructing 20 residential townhouses to be known as The Mews at Blantyre, and creating 14 estate building lots.
Blantyre Ventures LLC, managed by owner Linda Law, a longtime real estate developer and investor, aims to create a world-class destination retreat resort, according to the application filed Wednesday with the Zoning Board of Appeals.
"These Gilded Age manor houses are extraordinarily expensive to maintain as a result of the age of the structures, the age of the fixtures and equipment and the relatively small number of guest rooms, making financial viability and success especially difficult," it notes.
The cost of the redevelopment is projected at $90 million in phases, with construction of the new hotel building and townhouses expected to take 18 months, Law said in a phone interview.
Attorney F. Sydney Smithers IV of Cain Hibbard & Myers filed the application seeking a zoning board special permit under the town's Estate Preservation bylaw. The bylaw allows redevelopment, preservation and protection of a qualifying property exceeding 25 acres, including a building, open space and associated settings.
The goal of the proposed project is "to become a global center of excellence for retreats, think tanks and conferences — including Fortune 500 companies, foundations, institutes, endowments, philanthropic endeavors and universities," the application states.
"I see the Berkshires as a creative economy, filled with the arts," Law told The Eagle. "At Blantyre, we've seen interest in lifelong learning from universities and corporations. We're getting groups from executive suite companies, captains of industry coming for a think tank over a couple of days, and women's groups.
"With just 24 rooms, we've turned down a lot of businesses," she said. "We want to expand the creative economy, bringing in intellectual capital and strategic planners. We also see it as a location for multiple generations to get together."
The redevelopment would double employment at the property, to 160, and would yield more than $930,000 for the town in various one-time fees and permits, while adding about $1 million a year in sales and occupancy tax revenues, with real estate taxes to be determined.
In its request for a special permit, the corporation acknowledged a struggle by employees to find affordable housing.
"The owners appreciate the effort to expand the town's affordable housing pool," Blantyre Hotel Ventures wrote in its filing.
Thus, it agrees to a special permit condition requiring the construction or rehabilitation of three affordable housing units "compatible in appearance and setting to the neighborhood in which they shall be located," or contribute cash payments to the Lenox Housing Trust Fund to be negotiated between the company and the town equal to the cost of the units.
The corporation would choose one of the two options and negotiate with the Zoning Board of Appeals on the timetable to deliver either the housing units or the cash payments.
The ZBA expects to start reviewing the proposal during its meeting at 7 p.m. March 4 in Lenox Town Hall.
"We want to do this right," Law said. "We want to be transparent for the community, working with the town like a public-private partnership. That's really important."
Blantyre Hotel Ventures acquired the property in June 2017, after it was put on the market for the first time in 35 years. The Blantyre Manor House was built for Robert Paterson and took 300 construction workers five years to complete, beginning in 1897.
The red brick mansion was constructed in the style of an Elizabethan Tudor manor house, and was named after Paterson's mother's ancestral home of Blantyre in Lancashire, Scotland. It served as an inn on and off for a series of owners since 1946.
Blantyre has attracted numerous celebrity guests, many connected with the Boston Symphony Orchestra's summer home at Tanglewood.
John Williams composed music for the film "Schindler's List" and some of his "Star Wars" and "Harry Potter" scores while staying there, and Julian Fellowes, creator of "Downton Abbey," has said that the tone and flavor of the series was "seeped out of Blantyre."
Before it was a hotel, the property was owned by film mogul D.W. Griffith during the 1930s. He considered creating a movie studio at the site, prompting The Eagle to report that he had proclaimed his intention to "save the Berkshires" by transforming Lenox into the "Hollywood of the East."
The application states that the property is eligible for zoning relief under the Estate Preservation bylaw provision because of the historic manor house. The 110-acre property is connected to town water and sewer.
Besides adding 45 guest rooms in a new building and developing the townhouses, a new three-level gallery/banquet hall to be known as Gainsborough Hall would be built within 200 feet of the manor house at the location of the former gallery/museum, and other guest amenities, including a ballroom, would be added or enhanced in order to attract large group business, such as multigenerational weddings.
The 20 townhouses in the northeast section of the property would be designed to provide larger guest room spaces for small retreats and families. The houses would be financed through individual ownership and can be placed in the hotel's rental pool, providing an additional supply of guest rooms when the owners are not present.
In addition, the plans call for 14 estate building lots arrayed around two village greens "in response to many guests who have strongly expressed the desire to build a custom home at Blantyre, where generations of their family can meet in the Berkshires and come together," the application explains. Those homes to be constructed by lot purchasers also would be available for the hotel's rental pool whenever the owners desire.
The current spa facility would be relocated from the original Carriage House to the new hotel building, and a second swimming pool would be developed as part of that building. The plans include required parking spaces and a maintenance facility.
All driveways are to be constructed and maintained at a standard equal to contemporary requirements of subdivision roads in Lenox. Plans call for screening off-street parking from abutters and adjoining streets.
The property includes two parcels, the manor house and the Coldbrooke Southeast parcel, and exceeds the minimum required dimensions for the proposed project, the application states.
A traffic impact study prepared by consultants Fuss & O'Neill recommends removal of brush and tree limbs at several intersections to improve inadequate sight distances. Overall traffic flow and safety would be improved by completion of the project, according to the study.
Blantyre Hotel Ventures LLC states that the project would have a minimal impact on the natural environment, would "greatly enhance Blantyre as a Great Estate and ensure its long-term viability and success." There would be little, if any, impact on town services such as water, sewer and fire protection.
The corporation contends that the proposed project "will greatly improve the property, extends its useful life for years to come, add prestige to Lenox's reputation as a gateway and upscale resort destination, while adding significantly to the town's tax base."
The corporation formed by Law and a group of partners purchased the property from Fitzpatrick Holdings LLC three years ago.
The late Berkshire benefactors John and Jane Fitzpatrick had purchased Blantyre in 1980, after it had been abandoned and fallen into disrepair. The Fitzpatricks gave the property to their daughter, JoAnn Fitzpatrick Brown, to run.
The property was sold to Blantyre Hotel Ventures LLC after the death of Fitzpatrick Brown in January 2016.
Clarence Fanto can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, on Twitter @BE_cfanto or at 413-637-2551.
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