Miraval Group completes $22M purchase of Cranwell ahead of expansion plan

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LENOX — One major hospitality industry project has taken a giant step forward as a subsidiary of Hyatt Hotels completed its purchase of Cranwell Spa & Golf Resort for $22 million. Four others are under construction, in development, stalled or in early discussion stages.

The transaction was recorded at the Middle Berkshire Registry of Deeds on Tuesday, clearing the way for Hyatt's recently acquired Miraval Group brand to begin its transformation of the historic 380-acre property into a high-end, wellness-oriented resort.

The Lenox Zoning Board of Appeals granted a special permit for the project last October. Hyatt/Miraval plans to spend an additional $60 million on the expansion and renovation of the resort.

Meanwhile, the Elm Court resort project on Old Stockbridge Road remains mired in legal limbo. Travaasa Experiential Resorts, which would operate the property under the corporate umbrella Front Yard LLC, has doubled down on its commitment to development of the site into a 96-room hotel, public restaurant and spa.

An appeal filed by eight Elm Court neighbors to the Lenox zoning board's approval of the project last June is still awaiting a decision by Massachusetts Land Court Judge Karyn Scheier, who presided over a one-day trial on the case last August in a rented courtroom at Berkshire Superior Court.

The most recent Land Court docket entry, seven weeks ago, stated that the case was "not ripe for adjudication," legal terminology meaning that it is not ready for a ruling. A followup inquiry to the court clerk in Boston yielded the same result — no timetable for a decision.

In a statement to The Eagle, Adam Hawthorne, president of Travaasa — a subsidiary of Amstar, the global real estate investment conglomerate — responded to questions about the future of the planned 112-room, $50 million resort.

"Amstar and Travaasa remain committed to the Elm Court project," he said last week. "We're looking forward to resolving the pending appeal of the approved special permit in Lenox. Once this is resolved, we plan to immediately take steps to start the restoration process."

Amstar lists 23 resort properties in its portfolio, but its Travaasa affiliate recently sold its flagship Austin, Texas hotel to the Miraval Group, itself now a brand of Hyatt Hotels.

Hyatt paid $215 million to KSP Capital Partners, the corporate parent of Miraval, in December for Cranwell, Travaasa Austin, Miraval's own flagship resort in Tucson, Ariz. and Miraval's Life in Balance Spa at the Monarch Beach Resort in southern California.

At the Aug. 21 trial in Pittsfield on the Elm Court appeal, Judge Scheier heard three witnesses among the group of eight neighbors who sued the Lenox ZBA and Front Yard LLC, developer of the resort for Travaasa.

The suit seeks to overturn the special permit granted by the ZBA on a 4-1 vote in July 2015. The Stockbridge Select Board had approved the project in September 2014, and has granted a two-year extension of its special permit until Sept. 10, 2018.

While about 97 percent of the 90-acre Elm Court site is in Stockbridge, several acres at the entrance and along Old Stockbridge Road are in Lenox.

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The residents who filed the suit voiced concerns about the traffic impact, potential noise, light pollution and disruption of their residential neighborhood.

Judge Scheier cited "knotty legal issues that are the most difficult part of the case" as she wrapped up the one-day trial, which followed her site visit to the Elm Court property.

If she rejects the neighbors' appeal, the project would add a 96-room annex to the 16 existing hotel rooms in the 1884 Elm Court mansion previously operated by Robert and Sonya Berle as a boutique inn catering to wedding parties. The Berle family sold the property to Travaasa for $9.8 million in 2012.

At the Miraval Cranwell property, the two-year buildout is expected to begin during the upcoming construction season. The expansion would add 43 rooms to the existing 105, as well as a new spa, fitness center, and various wellness amenities as well as renovation of existing facilities.

The property would remain open during construction. As a condition for the Lenox ZBA's approval of the project, neighboring condominium owners would continue to have access to the amenities, including the golf course, on a fee-based schedule. Others in Lenox and neighboring communities could purchase memberships for access to golf, tennis, a new swimming pool and other resort facilities.

Miraval President and CEO Steven Rudnitsky, who will remain in his position under the Hyatt ownership, granted many concessions to the condo owners in order to gain approval of the project from the Lenox zoning board.

A third major resort project in the area, hotelier Vijay Mahida's Lenox Manor 100-room all-suite hotel and events center, is slated to begin construction this spring following demolition of the Magnuson Hotel off Routes 7 and 20. The $24 million resort, to be branded as an Element by Westin, is scheduled to open in the fall of 2018.

Westin is now part of Marriott International Inc., which purchased Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide, Inc., for $13 billion last year. Marriott is now the world's largest hotel operator with more than 1.1 million rooms.

Yet another new Lenox hotel, the Toole Lodging Group's 92-room, $8.3 million Courtyard by Marriott, is nearing completion for a planned springtime opening at Brushwood Farms, across from Lenox Commons on Routes 7 and 20.

And in Stockbridge, residents near the former DeSisto School off Route 183 are awaiting a revised site plan for a hotel, condominium and single-family home complex proposed by property owner Patrick Sheehan and his partner, Tony Guthrie.

The original proposal, presented informally during recent Select Board and Planning Board meetings, met with neighborhood opposition over its size — 43 hotel rooms, 96 "condotel" units that could be rented out by owners, and up to 70 single-family homes. The condos, in five two-story buildings, and the homes would be built gradually, based on market demand.

The project may come up for further discussion at the upcoming meeting of the Stockbridge Planning Board on Feb. 7 at 6:30 p.m. in the Town Offices. The board is examining potential revisions to the town's Cottage Era bylaws, which apply to the DeSisto property, Elm Court and Eden Hill, owned by the Congregation of Marian Fathers.

Contact correspondent Clarence Fanto at cfanto@yahoo.com or 413-637-2551.


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