In a Hotel State of Mind
Multiple Locations Vie for Favor As Randolph Lodging
Hotels are on Randolph’s mind. In order for Randolph to be a viable
destination for growing business, tourism, and development interests in
the area, many are beginning to believe, the town requires a hotel where
people can sojourn for nights, weekends and extended visits.
This missing link in available accommodations forces travelers to book hotel rooms a half-hour’s drive away, or more, from Randolph. Now, the only available options to stay within the locale are limited to smaller bed and breakfast establishments, private homestay options like Airbnb, or local campgrounds. Without accommodations of any substantial scale nearby, potential plans for long-term community development may suffer.
At least two studies are currently underway to determine a Randolph-area hotel’s financial feasibility. In addition to the basis for financial feasibility, there is also an ongoing conversation about how to best benefit the historic downtown and the business community at large.
Highways & Hillsides
According to Perry Armstrong, owner and president of Rain or Shine Tent and Events Company, he has invested some $15,000 and counting to better understand the potential for a development near Exit 4.
Armstrong, a longtime member of the Randolph Planning Commission and recent addition to the selectboard, said in a recent interview that he is looking into the possibility of developing either a boutique hotel or an upper mid-scale franchise like Hilton or Marriot near the Interstate, though he needs to research the area marketplace further.
Either way, he said, he was interested in lodging that might be locally managed and staffed.
“The goal is to build a product that works for the community,” he said.
This potential 65-unit project could offer both extended stay rooms, and business-class rooms, with the possibility of partnering with a hotel franchise or self-managing. Although Armstrong would not share the details of the study that is now underway, he did say that he thought he had the only location, near Exit 4, that would support a hotel in town, and he is extending the study further to determine how a 1,500 sq. foot conference center could impact the project.
Armstrong said his company used to do two to three weddings per month in town.
“The volume of wedding work that we’re doing in this community has dropped by about $150,000 over the last five years,” since there is nowhere to house any wedding goers, he said.
Armstrong cited the potential for a larger-scale hotel to offer greater benefit to local businesses, caterers, restaurants, and recreational enterprise. He does not plan to have a restaurant at the hotel, beyond offering a standard continental breakfast, and may consider sourcing catering services locally through Vermont Technical College or Gifford, if the plans for a conference center prove feasible.
“I have been saying that we need a hotel here for 30 years,” he said.
Given the recent history of opposition to development near Exit 4, Armstrong said he was concerned about the potential for lawyers, legal fees, and the inability to agree on any potential solution that would benefit the town.
“We don’t want to go to the Act 250 board twice,” he said.
Until he actually has plans in hand, he is not willing to share any specifics. Although Armstrong believes that Exit 4 could be a more viable option for those coming to the area for business, tourism and the growing non-resort recreation opportunities. He said he does not think there would be any competition between a hotel near Exit 4 and another downtown hotel.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do as far as getting back on the map,” he said.
Sam Sammis, chairman of New England Land Co., a real estate company with Greenwich, Conn., and Randolph offices, currently owns the building at 2 South Main Street, at the corner of Merchants Row, and said that he has been developing preliminary plans for a small boutique hotel in there.
Sammis said that he is not interested in managing the hotel, but rather making it easier to transition the building along to new owners.
In a follow-up email, Sammis said he is considering three options that include: selling the building for office and retail uses; converting the building to apartments to sell as condominiums; or converting the building to a hotel and selling it to a new owner.
A current draft of his plans for the hotel is based on a two-floor layout with a lobby, lounge and eighteen suites, each approximately 400 to 420 square feet in size.
Parking could be available for 30 to 40 cars if he were to convert the abutting section of nearby Back Street, which he owns. This space is currently used for tenant parking.
“There is no question that the town needs a place to stay for people who are coming for business,” he said.
“This is a very new idea. I have thought about it for a while, but I haven’t put anything on paper until the last few weeks.”
Downtown vs. Uptown
Paul Bruhn, executive director of the Preservation Trust of Vermont, has been working on another study to try to understand the general market in Randolph.
“The best solution from our standpoint,” Bruhn said in an interview Monday, “would be to have additional new lodging in downtown Randolph” due to the inherent benefits for local business and appeal to the traveling public.
He said that in addition to restaurants and entertainment, consumer goods sales should go up, citing the success of the Latchis Hotel and Theatre in Brattleboro.
“That has really worked, they have built their occupancy, it has been a great asset for downtown,” Bruhn said.
“I think that one of the key things is trying to understand what the market is in Randolph.”
Bruhn said he believed an ideal situation for any successful hotel in Randolph would include the dovetailing of marketplace interests, a lot of tourist business on the weekend mixed with business travelers during weekdays.
“It attracts a lot of people who end up in restaurants in downtown because people can park their car and get their room and go out and have dinner,” he said.
Bruhn said the Preservation Trust of Vermont study may be completed as soon as late-June. Citing successes in Brattleboro and St. Albans, “We’re doing this because we agree with all of those people who have said Randolph suffers from insufficient lodging opportunities,” he said.
Trifecta of Solutions
Julie Iffland, executive director of the Randolph Area Community Development Corporation, has been assisting in the study with The Preservation Trust of Vermont and suggested that renovating the historic Mari Castle to convert the building into a destination hotel for the luxury market may work as an additional solution. This is one of many possibilities that could fit a niche visitor marketplace in town.
“It’s very important for us to get hospitality in the town. To build on what we have already, I think it is going to be essential,” Iffland said.
“I think whatever can happen is our best opportunity,” she said.