After delays and cutbacks, Randolph hotel complex coming together
|Published: 11-27-2023 3:34 AM
RANDOLPH — Standing next to a pancake-flat concrete foundation more than twice the area of a basketball court in a clearing a few thousand yards from exit 4 on Interstate 89, Perry Armstrong viewed the scene under sunlight and clear skies one afternoon earlier this month.
By next fall, Armstong and his partner, Paul Rea, expect the former hayfield where they were walking will be the site of a new 64-room “extended stay” hotel, only the second hotel to be built in the Upper Valley in more than a dozen years and one of barely a handful in various stages of development throughout Vermont.
“I used to ride around here on a tractor mowing this field in 1971 and ’72. My house is right there beyond those trees,” said Armstrong, pointing to the treeline at the western border of the site.
“My backyard, too,” he said, a not-so-subtle dig at some people in the area who protested that the hotel would ruin landscape that overlooks the White River Valley.
Efforts to build a hotel near the Randolph exit extend back to the early 2000s, when a succession of developers initially had their sights set on developing land on the west side of I-89 and the south side of Route 66. Those plans ran into opposition from community members who opposed development at the site, which was later placed into a conservation easement.
Those obstacles — and frustrations — are now history for Armstrong, Rea and their partners.
There is a sense of relief in Armstrong’s voice as he recounts the ups and downs of the hotel project: opposition battles, changeover among town officials and state regulators, plus a pandemic that forced his group to recast the project. Nonetheless, they hope it addresses the perennial issue of temporary workforce housing.
Initially conceived as a Hampton Inn hotel replete with 400-capacity conference center, 152-seat restaurant, outdoor tent and indoor pool, the COVID-19 pandemic pulled the rug out from under the original 74-room plan. The ensuing labor shortage in the building trades, supply chain backlogs and inflation drove up costs to the point the partners had to scale back and reconceive the project.
“Construction went up 30% to 35%. We had to figure out what to do,” Rea said.
The revised plan, which called for reducing the originally proposed 47,900-square-foot hotel to 30,000 square feet, required going back the Randolph zoning department for administrative approval.
With the amount of financing from Vermont Economic Development Authority and Community National Bank — the majority financiers of the $14 million project — fixed, that meant that the partners had to reduce the scope of the project, a de facto way to cut costs in order to stay within budget. Dropped from the plan — or postponed — are the conference center, restaurant and pool in addition to 15 rooms.
As the partners had to shed elements of the original plan, that in turn triggered Hampton Inn, which requires such elements as a restaurant and pool among its franchisees — to pull out of the project.
The hotel’s redesign also bows to the post-pandemic reality that has made it extremely difficult for businesses to find workers for low-wage service industry jobs. What’s the point in having a restaurant if you can’t find cooks and waitstaff?
“Nobody in their right mind would build a restaurant right now,” Armstrong said.
The hotel has been “rebranded” as a MyPlace franchise and designed as extended-stay units that Armstrong and Rea say will cater primarily to area employers who need accommodations for employees and contractors they bring in for weeks or months at a time. Each unit will feature a kitchenette with a stove and refrigerator.
“GW Plastics and Applied Research have people come in for training from all over over. Gifford Medical Center needs places for traveling nurses to stay. Companies send employees to (Vermont State University’s Randolph campus) to train in advanced manufacturing. There is a huge housing shortage in the region, and these places are desperate to have places for their people to stay when they are here,” Armstrong said.
The plan is similar to that utilized for the former Element Hotel in Lebanon, where the owner is seeking approval from the city to allow long-term residential leases at the 120-unit Route 120 hotel that has been targeted at accommodating workers at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center and area employers in response to the dearth of workforce housing in the Upper Valley.
Rea said the hotel will also be available for overnight and weekend stays which, given it is located within 45 minutes of ski areas and the snowmobile trail “which goes right by the property,” he expects to appeal to budget-conscious tourists.
One element Armstrong and Rea are sticking with is an outdoor tent for seasonal events — which Armstrong, as owner of Rain or Shine Tent and Events in Randolph, knows something about. (Armstrong has been in the process of selling off 40% of his tenting company equipment and supplies as the labor shortage has hit business.)
MyPlace will be managed by Cornerstone Hospitality, which Armstrong said will be responsible for hiring the eight to 10 people needed to run the hotel. The site is pre-approved for an 18-room extension to be added at the western side of the three-story building in addition to the conference center and restaurant that would be built as a separate structure on the east side of lot.
“We can put on another 18 rooms, maybe in a couple years, and then the conference center and restaurant. (Vermont State University’s Randolph campus) has been hosting conferences, but they don’t want to be in it,” Armstrong said.
Pre-fabricated exterior walls, manufactured in Canada, started going up on Thursday. The roof is scheduled to be put on in January, and the entire hotel is projected to be completed in time for Labor Day weekend.
Armstrong said that when Hampton Inn pulled out, some suggested that they sell off the project to another investor. But Armstrong refused to consider that, arguing “that wasn’t the goal. We wanted to keep it a local thing.”
Despite all gyrations of the project over the years, Armstrong said it is not in his nature to “throw in the towel.”
“I am not a quitter,” he said.
Contact John Lippman at email@example.com