College considers building new Williams Inn on Spring Street

November 18, 2015 by William McGuire, Staff Writer

After purchasing the Williams Inn in 2014, the College has been considering moving its hospitality operation to a new site at the base of Spring Street, on a College-owned 8.5-acre lot adjacent to Weston Field.

Plans for the hotel are unfinished, and depend on town approval, which will consider how the building would affect town parking and traffic plans, and how the building would comply with environmental regulations, as a portion of the lot is considered wetlands.

According to Vice President for Finance and Administration and Treasurer Fred Puddester, there are several proposals for the hotel building. The building could sit at a short distance from Spring Street on land currently occupied by large red storage sheds on Denison Park Drive, but the College is also considering plans that place the building on the corner where Spring Street turns into Latham Street. “[The current inn is] too big, it doesn’t help animate Spring Street … and it just needs a lot of work,” Puddester said. The Williams Inn, built in 1974, would require a costly renovation to meet the standards of the proposed hotel, Puddester said.

Rebuilding on the current site is also not an option, according to Puddester. “That would take over two years, and we just can’t afford to not have those rooms,” he said, citing that families and alumni depend on the rooms during commencement celebrations and Homecoming, and that local residents fill the hotel during the summertime and for special events like the Bay State Games.

The proposed 60- to 100-room hotel would be much more efficient to run, especially if the College decides to adopt the idea of a 40-room annex that can be closed for the winter and outside of other peak seasons, cutting maintenance and housekeeping costs.

The fate of the current Williams Inn is uncertain. “We would probably tear it down and leave it as green space,” Puddester said. He noted that, given the current inn’s prime location with a large lot at the western entrance of town, there is very little doubt that the College or an outside investor will find a new use for the property.

“The closer you can get people to places where they can spend money, the better,” Williamstown Town Manager Jason Hoch ’95 said about the potential hotel on Spring Street. He believes the new location would provide much more activity for businesses on Spring Street. In addition, he predicts that it will attract more visitors who are seeking accommodation at a higher price point, which brings more tax revenue to the town and may be a boon to local businesses, as those visitors may otherwise be lost to Pittsfield, Mass., or other hotels in the southern half of Berkshire county.

“It will also determine what happens between Spring Street and Water Street,” Hoch said. He sees the town’s downtown district as a “proxy” for the growth of the town, and supports efforts to connect Spring Street and Water Street into a single downtown district. The new hotel could serve as the “anchor” connecting the two, and spur more discussions regarding the future of Spring Street. “I’m looking forward to being at a point where we can have those discussions,” Hoch said.

Hoch stressed that coordination between the College and the town is vital to the future development of Spring Street. This summer’s renovations to the Log on Spring Street highlighted the importance of communication, as many business owners were dissatisfied with contractors’ use of scarce space in the Spring Street parking lot; Rita Coppola-Wallace, the Executive Director of Facilities, told iBerkshires that the College will write clauses into future contracts that prohibit contractors’ employees from using town parking spaces.

“I think we need to maintain and strengthen that close working relationship,” Hoch said. The town and College are equally dependent upon the other’s growth, and that growth is nurtured by clear, consistent, and timely communication “That’s the best part of all of this,” he said, “success comes from those who talk together early.”

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