WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. -- It makes more sense to build a hotel in South Williamstown at Waubeeka Golf Links than on the end of Spring Street, and a hotel needs to be about 100 rooms or larger to be economically viable, says Carl J. Faulkner, the former longtime owner-operator of the Williams Inn.
"In Williamstown, the best location for a new inn is the present site of the Williams Inn, even if the inn needs to be closed for about two years in order to accomplish this," Faulkner said in a interview and written comments to GreylockNews.com. "Otherwise, the Waubeeka site would be the next-best site. Spring Street/Latham Street, I feel is less desirable. It's location, location, location."
The problem with a Spring Street site proposed by Williams College for a "new" 60-room Williams Inn is that it is not on a major route traveled by the tourists who are the main source of economic viability for any non-resort hotel, said Faulkner. Faulkner noted that the intersections of U.S. Route 7 and state Route 43 at South Williamstown was once the location of the Idlewild Inn. While not familiar with developer Michael Deep's proposals for a "New England-style country inn" resort at Waubeeka, Faulkner expressed doubt any tourist- and event-venue hotel could be viable with less than about 100 rooms.
"To me, with 60 rooms, you can't make money," he said. "The college is proposing a building that is too small -- 60 rooms will not satisfy the needs," said Faulkner. "We found that in order to get conventions you need at least 100 rooms. Also, I think the college is thinking they are the sole generator of rooms. They are not. They are a substantial generator of rooms, but hopefully most the rooms will come from tourists driving through the area."
If Williams builds only 60 rooms, Faulkner believes the facility will be a perpetual money loser, subsidized by Williams. "In my opinion, 100-120 rooms is the most profitable size for an inn," said Faulkner. "Above that size you need more staff and under that size you still need the same staff that a 100-room inn would need. Also, in order to attract regional conferences, reunions, antique-auto groups and other conventions, you need over 100 rooms."
In a "Q&A on the Williams Inn Project" release last week by Williams, spokesman James Kolesar asserts that putting a hotel at the intersection of two major roads -- as would be the case at Waubeeka or at the current Williams Inn site -- may have been a good place "before the invention of the Internet." However, Kolesar wrote:"Few travelers any more head out without knowing where they intend to stay."
Faulkner commented during an interview last week with GreylockNews.com, which sought figures from him about tax payments by the Williams Inn. He co-owned the Williams Inn with his wife, Marilyn, for more than 35 years, ground leasing six acres of land from Williams. Faulkner says he supports Williams College's effort to build a new Williams Inn, but not at a Spring Street location.
"I'm in favor of a New Inn, he said. I'm just not in favor of Spring Street . . . personally, I think the Waubeeka site is a better site for a hotel than where the college wants to build," said Faulkner. "It is a more traveled road. There is precedent for it, where the Idlewild was and that was in the area of 100 to 120 rooms. The college-chosen site is a poor one." In the interview, Faulkner made the following points:
- No matter which location, Faulkner cautioned about hotel over building in Berkshire County. He said three new inns are open or under construction this year in Lenox or Pittsfield, ad a time when hundreds of SABIC workers in Pittsfield are losing jobs or relocating to Texas. Two new inns -- the Redwood and the Greylock Mill -- are in building or planning stages in North Adams.
- An inn at the end of Spring Street can be expected to generate "a minimum of several tractor-trailer trucks weekdays making deliveries." In addition, multiple intercity buses and Berkshire Regional Transit Authority buses stop daily at The Williams Inn, Faulkner said. These buses will have to either find another stop or negotiate the bottom of Spring Street.
- The mix of retail on Spring Street -- many restaurants and few "browsable shops" was of diminishing interest to Williams Inn lodgers and the college may be exacerbating that by adding public dining at The Log and in a proposed new bookstore building. The short walk to Spring Street from the Williams Inn was not a deterent, Faulkner said.
- Faulkner discounted Kolesar's assertion that the current Williams Inn building is not "very energy inefficient". To the contrary, Faulkner said. Five or six years ago, it received the government's best Energy Star efficiency rating in New England he said. Also, the Inn's $3-million, 24-room addition completed in 2001 was completed to the then-latest energy standards, he said. In 2012, Yankee Magazine named the hotel "New England inn of the year.
- Speculating about options other than a Spring Street location, Faulkner said he believes there may be enough space on the current Williams Inn site to build a new inn while keeping the current building in operation. In a worst-case scenario, the current inn could be razed and a new one built on a fast-development schedule. The 2001 addition was completed in nine months, he said. Asked if the town could get buy without the Williams Inn for nine months, Faulkner replied: "I'd ave to say yes."
- Asked if the current site could fit both a new inn building and a new Williams College Museum of Art, Faulkner he had no knowledge of the art museum's site requirements. Faulkner said that at the time the college was concluding its relationship with them as operators, he was told the college was thinking of using the inn building as a temporary dormitory. However, the college now says it will tear down the building if a new inn is build and "greenfield" the land until a new use is determined.
The Faulkners are experienced innkeepers with decades of experience. After working in accounting and management in Boston hotels, the Faulkner's in 1968 gradually acquiried or managed hotels in Plymouth, Mass., Rochester, N.Y. , Southbury, Conn., and Williamstown, ranging in size between 104 and 200 rooms. In Williamstown, their business relied upon a collaborative relationship with Williams College. In 2013, as Faulkner tells the story, Williams abruptly acquired the building mortgage from Faulkner's bank, then told the couple Williams was taking over the hotel with new management, easing their May 1, 2014, retirement. Faulkner now calls himself a "fruit farmer" and says he has not entered the hotel in months. "All this is not my problem," he said. "I'm retired."