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News & Issues July 2015


Downtown hotel raises hopes

$14M project hailed as symbol of change for Pittsfield


The Berkshire Edge



Hotel on North, which opened last month in downtown Pittsfield, is managed by Main Street Hospitality Group, which also runs The Red Lion Inn in Stockbridge, the Williams Inn in Williamstown and The Porches Inn in North Adams. Heather Bellow photo/The Berkshire Edge

In a lounge next to the lobby of Pittsfield’s new $14 million downtown hotel, the floor-to-ceiling windows are without the curtains that had been ordered, and will likely remain that way.
Sarah Eustis, chief executive of the company that runs the new Hotel on North, explained that the lack of curtains actually suits the hotel’s style and location.
“We want it to feel connected to the city, to the diverse fabric of Pittsfield that makes you realize where you are,” Eustis said. “We don’t want to cut it off.

“We’re transparent: You can come in, you can look in,” she continued, though she added the curtains might still go up in the winter “to make it cozy.”

Eustis leads Main Street Hospitality Group, which manages the new hotel for owners David and Laurie Tierney. The company now runs four hotels in the Berkshires, including the Williams Inn in Williamstown, The Porches Inn at Mass MoCA in North Adams, and The Red Lion Inn in Stockbridge. The company also is a “minor investor” in Hotel on North, Eustis said.

Hotel on North is a design-hotel enthusiast’s dream, with simply styled rooms featuring warm wood and brick, art collections like a series from Pittsfield-based photographer Eric Korenman, and Eat + Drink on North, a farm-to-table enterprise with wooden tables crafted by the restaurant’s local celebrity chef, Brian Alberg. A gift shop on the ground floor, Dory & Ginger, is co-owned by owner Laurie Tierney and Cara Carroll.

The new hotel, at 273-297 North St., has four stories and 45 rooms in two 19th century buildings that are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The structures were built in the 1880s by James M. Burns, a local merchant, and housed the Besse-Clark Company department store, a downtown landmark, from 1910 until 1994.

Unlike Main Street Hospitality’s other hotels, which have a clear and predictable guest base, the market for Hotel on North may not seem so obvious. But Eustis says there is a method behind what may seem like a gamble.

“We are literally in the heart of the Berkshires,” she said. “Halfway between Great Barrington and Williamstown — a hub.”

This hub, she said, offers “spokes for leisure or business,” and the company’s research shows Hotel on North can fill a need in the city and region.


More than tourism
Although Berkshire County is known as a destination for tourists, the new hotel’s operators expect it to draw a significant share of business travelers.

“Mid-week is where we’re going to make this work,” Eustis explained. “Weekends will be great, and we will love that: more leisure travelers, design hotel enthusiasts, art lovers.”

Main Street Hospitality’s chief operating officer, the Pittsfield native Bruce Finn, studied the data and “got a sense of how many room nights are requested” in Pittsfield, Eustis said.

Those requests are coming from people who attend conferences and do business at a host of larger companies in the area, including General Dynamics, Pine Cone Hill, Interprint and Berkshire Medical Center, as well as people with connections to other mid-size companies, associations, nonprofits and local government. Meeting the needs of these visitors was Finn’s rationale for “doing a great hotel in Pittsfield,” Eustis explained.

Eustis said the idea of a new downtown hotel had been brewing for a long time in the mind of Main Street Hospitality’s founder and chairwoman, Nancy Fitzpatrick, whose family has owned The Red Lion Inn since 1968. Fitzpatrick, she said, spent years looking for just the right building in Pittsfield.

At the hotel’s opening party on June 4, Fitzpatrick said Hotel on North is “going to deliver one of the best hotel experiences in New England — dead center in Pittsfield.”


Two families, one project
Laurie Tierney said she and her husband owned the two side-by-side buildings on the west side of North Street, and David Tierney’s construction company has worked with Fitzpatrick before on two projects, including refurbishing work and construction at The Red Lion Inn.

Both Tierneys are Berkshire County natives; David was born and raised in Pittsfield. Laurie Tierney, a part-time real estate broker for The Kinderhook Group, said she and David were passionate about the hotel project.

“This is our legacy, one of those projects that was taken very personally,” she said. “It’s our baby. And it’s become a family project.”

All three of the couple’s children have worked for the family business, she said, and their 21-year-old daughter will work this summer as bartender at Eat + Drink on North. David Tierney’s sister, Karen Hunt, was the project’s architect.

“It’s the luck of the Irish,” Eustis said of the partnership between the Fitzpatricks and the Tierneys.

It was the Tierneys who “had a vision for a hotel,” she added. “And we were very involved in every aspect of the development.”

Eustis said that until now, the only option for a full-service hotel in downtown Pittsfield was the Crowne Plaza Hotel, a 1960s high-rise on West Street.

“It’s very serviceable hotel,” Eustis said, though she added that “people’s expectations are increasing for design and hospitality.”

A search on booking.com for a date in early June showed Hotel on North’s rate for a nonsmoking double room was $17 less than the Crowne Plaza’s rate on the same night. As of late June, however, a sampling of three weeknights in July showed Hotel on North’s rate at a peak-season level of $259 per night, compared with rates ranging from $149 to $176 for the same dates at the Crowne Plaza.

“We analyzed the pricing structure,” Eustis said. “It’s reflective of the region, the seasonality, and we’re paying attention to it as we go forward. It’s a very fluid thing.”


Heart of a downtown
Some hope the arrival of Hotel on North represents a major milestone in the revitalization of downtown Pittsfield. The city has struggled with hard times since General Electric Co. left in the 1980s, taking with it thousands of jobs and leaving behind an environmental and economic mess.
Without GE to fill the city’s tax coffers, government-subsidized “Section 8” housing soon proliferated, property values plummeted, crime went up, and many businesses had a tough time staying afloat. Downtown also had to compete with the Berkshire Mall, which opened north of the city in Lanesborough at about the same time that GE left.

Today the new hotel shares North Street with local retail stalwarts like Paul Rich & Sons and Steven Valenti’s Clothing for Men as well as comparatively recent additions such as The Beacon Cinema, Dottie’s Coffee Lounge, Barrington Stage, Marketplace Cafe, Mission Bar + Tapas and the new Methuselah Bar and Lounge. The renovated Colonial Theatre, now run by Berkshire Theatre Group, also draws visitors downtown.

Adding a full-service hotel increases the sense that the downtown is once again bustling.
“A hotel is different than retail and offices,” Eustis said. “We’re open all the time, a living breathing heartbeat that we’re hoping will keep the blood pumping.”

By creating a new downtown destination and drawing new visitors to the city’s core, she suggested, the hotel should help the other businesses that have worked to turn the city around since the 1980s.

“We’re trying to join our neighbors and add critical mass so they can realize their investments,” Eustis said.

“We’re taking a calculated risk,” she added. “It takes time to get to what we call stabilization. And we believe that we have a conservative plan, ... goals that are realistic.”

The hospitality business requires a steady stream of guests, and Main Street plans to use a number of different tools to increase occupancy, Eustis said.

“We’re going to manage our rates very carefully,” Eustis said. “It’s a fine art.”

Main Street Hospitality plans an aggressive publicity campaign “that goes way beyond the Berkshires,” but it also aims to be part of the larger “Berkshire branding strategy,” she said.


Oysters to comfort food
The hotel’s restaurant, with a menu that focuses on locally sourced comfort foods, should attract both visitors and locals.

At Eat + Drink, one can eat in the manner of one’s grandparents -- if they lived on a farm in the Deep South. The menu features such offerings as “cast-iron mac & cheese, with or without pig” and “chicken and waffles,” along with more sophisticated fare like oysters from the restaurant’s raw bar, or boquerones, which are white anchovies. All of it can be eaten while looking out at the life of North Street, or in the dark, beckoning bar and lounge area.

Alberg, the executive chef, who is also Main Street Hospitality’s vice president of food and beverage operations, is overseeing the restaurant with chef de cuisine Sean Corcoran.
“This was my playground,” Alberg said, standing in his food domain at one end of the U-shaped bar. “This is where I got to do my concept and food philosophy.

Alberg, a native of Columbia County, N.Y., said he wants to cook and serve what he and his chef friends eat when they go out here or in New York City, where they usually start with oysters somewhere and move on to chicken and waffles at Blue Ribbon in the wee hours. He says it’s all about “comfort food from the South and Mediterranean foods.”

Alberg is using mostly local vendors, including local coffee roasters. He also believes in “moving the cooks into the dining room.” And so he did, at one end of the bar, where he works and serves with knives and other equipment on view.

“We’re not hiding things,” he said. “And we’re doing things like salting dishes with our fingers. It’s like having people in my kitchen.”

Alberg also got to build the restaurant’s tables out of a stack of aged oak and ash from David Tierney.

He says the restaurant is not there to compete with surrounding businesses. Instead, he calls it the “perfect complement to the hard work already done here with Methuselah, Dottie’s and Mission,” which are just north of the hotel.

“They are anchors,” he said. “We’re going to help bring more business to all of us.”
The hotel and restaurant are also adding jobs. Finn said 50 people had been hired as of early June, “and we’ll have 75 for peak season.” He also said many of the new employees live downtown and can walk to work.


City streets
A police officer stationed outside the hotel during the later hours of the hotel’s opening party raised the question of whether North Street might come to resemble Hudson, N.Y., where the city’s main thoroughfare features a series of swanky, hip restaurants and boutiques that are beyond the price range of the many people living in public housing complexes a block to the north.

Eustis said Hotel on North is working to make “all people feel at home” while “applying security measures to make sure guests are safe.”

“We will provide everyone with same level of hospitality,” she said. “But we’re not going to put up with any shenanigans.”

The hotel’s revolving door, like its naked windows, bestows a welcoming energy. Around noon on a recent weekday, a passerby pushed through it just to eyeball the place, and was greeted warmly by Eustis and others on the staff.

The door was the brainchild of the Tierneys, who before they went to a Pink concert in Nashville had had burgers in a restaurant with a door just like the one they installed at the hotel.
Hotel on North, it appears, has shaken hands with these hard city streets.


For more news of the central and southern Berkshires and an interactive calendar of cultural and community events, visit theberkshireedge.com.