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Down on the River: Inn Rises in Woodstock at Former Pond Ridge Motel Site

  • Construction workers from Punger Enterprises LLC install siding at On the River Inn in Woodstock, Vt., on January 15, 2014. The hotel will have a soft launch at the end of February. (Valley News - Will Parson)

    Construction workers from Punger Enterprises LLC install siding at On the River Inn in Woodstock, Vt., on January 15, 2014. The hotel will have a soft launch at the end of February. (Valley News - Will Parson) Purchase photo reprints »

  • A room at On the River Inn overlooks the Ottauquechee River in Woodstock, Vt., on January 15, 2014. The hotel will have a soft launch at the end of February. (Valley News - Will Parson)

    A room at On the River Inn overlooks the Ottauquechee River in Woodstock, Vt., on January 15, 2014. The hotel will have a soft launch at the end of February. (Valley News - Will Parson) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Vintage newspapers await framing at On the River Inn in Woodstock, Vt., on January 15, 2014. The newspapers, collected by hotel owner Aaren Macksoud, will hang inside On the River Inn when it opens. (Valley News - Will Parson)

    Vintage newspapers await framing at On the River Inn in Woodstock, Vt., on January 15, 2014. The newspapers, collected by hotel owner Aaren Macksoud, will hang inside On the River Inn when it opens. (Valley News - Will Parson) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Construction workers from Punger Enterprises LLC install siding at On the River Inn in Woodstock, Vt., on January 15, 2014. The hotel will have a soft launch at the end of February. (Valley News - Will Parson)
  • A room at On the River Inn overlooks the Ottauquechee River in Woodstock, Vt., on January 15, 2014. The hotel will have a soft launch at the end of February. (Valley News - Will Parson)
  • Vintage newspapers await framing at On the River Inn in Woodstock, Vt., on January 15, 2014. The newspapers, collected by hotel owner Aaren Macksoud, will hang inside On the River Inn when it opens. (Valley News - Will Parson)

Woodstock — The 40-room hotel being built on six acres west of downtown buzzed with activity last week as a swirl of carpenters, painters, electricians and plumbers — glad to be out of the cold — pushed to ready the building’s interior for a soft opening in late February.

“We’re getting there. It may not look like it in every case, but we’re pretty close,” said general manager Ron Dwinell, during a walkthrough of 506 On The River Inn, the first new multimillion-dollar hotel to be built in town in recent memory.

The ambiance of the lobby — tile floors, warm colors, dark wood — is the first sign that the owners, a family of hoteliers who have luxury properties in East Africa and Berlin, have set high standards for their first venture in the U.S.

In addition to the Palacina Hotel in Nairobi, Kenya, the Palacina Berlin hotel, three luxury boutique hotels on the island of Zanzibar, and an African safari and tour business, the family business also owns and operates Palacina Interior Design in Nairobi, which specializes in hospitality and restaurant design as well as operating a 14,000-square-foot retail store.

When 506 On The River Inn opens, guests will sign in at an antique drafting table before a backdrop panel of postal box doors, a memento from the old Bridgewater Post Office; framed newspapers from the 1800s hang in the halls; an unusual wooden bar and back bar from a monastery fill a corner of the 50-seat restaurant, and the rooms have balconies overlooking a pond, naturally landscaped grounds and the Ottauquechee River. Expansive windows, a large fireplace, exposed beams and dark brown leather furnishings throughout the common areas give the hotel the feel of mountain lodge.

Additional features include an indoor swimming pool, whirlpool, sauna, workout room, game room and children’s play area that make the inn more of a long-stay destination than a one-night place to sleep.

A gift shop runs along the Route 4 side of the 50,000-square-foot hotel, a large store that will sell maple syrup and Vermont-made products. There also will be outdoor dining and weddings on the lawn in the warmer months and skating on the pond and cross country skiing in winter, Dwinell said.

It’s not by happenstance that the owners ended up buying the old Pond Ridge Motel and it’s six acres adjoining the ballfields of Woodstock Union High School.

One of the principals, Aaren Macksoud, grew up in Woodstock, played football and lacrosse and graduated from Woodstock High in 1990. That was before he met his future wife, Paulina Raguse, and joined her family’s hotel business in Nairobi, where they are now raising their two children.

“I remembered the property from when I was growing up, but I never realized that it had such beautiful land along the river that I don’t think they capitalized on. It was just a cute little family-run motel with a pond that I loved as a kid,” Macksoud said earlier this month while he and his family were in Woodstock.

After they had purchased the property, they discovered that the process of building in Vermont was not as smooth as what they’d experienced in Africa and Germany, he said.

Originally, plans were to use the existing Pond Ridge building on the front of the site and construct a new larger structure around it.

Once foundation and structural problems were discovered, those plans were scrapped in favor of entirely new construction. The two-story original building was salvaged, moved back on the lot and restored for five apartment-type accommodations with balconies.

“We were used to building a hotel every three years, but this took quite a bit longer than we anticipated. I think what we ended up with is better and what we should have done all along,” Macksoud said.

Although the hotel has numerous amenities and an elegant feel — a decor that Macksoud calls farmhouse retro — the intention is to keep the price of rooms pegged somewhere in the middle between the most and least expensive accommodations in town, he said.

“We want this to be a very relaxed place, where people come here, bring their families and stay for a while. Some of our rooms will have full kitchens, others have microwaves and refrigerators. We won’t have room service, but we do have microwaves,” Macksoud said.

“You want have to go out to eat or even eat in our restaurant. You can just order a pizza.” The speed dial on the room telephones include the number for pizza restaurants, he said.

“This is the kind of place, if you want to have your wedding out by the river, we’ll take care of the details, put up the tent, cater or prepare the food, and the wedding party can stay right here.”

The hotel will open a few rooms at the end of February, more in March and the hope is to be completely open by the beginning of fall foliage season, Macksoud said, adding that the bar and restaurant will initially be open only to guests but may open to the public later.

Warren Johnston can be reached at wjohnston@vnews.com or 603-727-3216.