ZBA approves downtown hotel

GREENFIELD — Plans for an upscale downtown hotel with banquet facilities and a pool can move ahead now that the town’s Zoning Board of Appeals has issued it the special permit it needed.

Wilson’s Department Store President Kevin O’Neil, a partner of American House LLC, which owns the block and plans to partner with an unknown “operator of the hotel” to renovate the three top floors of the store and build a more than 5,000-square-foot, three-story addition off of Chapman Street, said he was thrilled after the board made its decision Thursday night.

All five members of the board said they thought it was a good project for the town.

O’Neil said construction of the new building and renovations of the old one won’t begin right away, because there are still a “few more steps to complete,” including application for tax credits, some financing and some contractual issues with the person who is going to run the 62-room hotel.

ZBA member Mark Maloney said plans for the project are thorough and the project is as efficient as it can be.

The board expressed its concerns about traffic along Chapman Street during and after construction, but said it didn’t have enough concern to block the project.

The project includes the hotel and banquet hall, as well as a small pool on the ground floor of the new addition. Most of the hotel will be built into the upper three floors above Wilson’s Department Store with the formal entrance on Chapman Street.

The plan is to restore the Wilson’s block to its historic use as a combination hotel and retail anchor for Main Street, a configuration it hasn’t seen since the mid-1960s, as well as restore the building’s century-old brick facade, leaving just a small portion, where the lettering is, of the white metal front of the older building intact.

O’Neil has said he hopes to draw parents of students attending the area’s private schools, as well as visitors to Greenfield for whatever reasons.

He said the banquet hall will be leased by individuals, companies and private groups, and the same might happen with the pool.

Greenfield has seen a need for larger banquet facilities in recent years.

O’Neil said a name has not yet been chosen for the downtown hotel, but he said he loves the idea of bringing a hotel back to the downtown, especially above Wilson’s, where one was located from 1882 to the early 1960s, when Hotel Greenfield went out of business.

He said he wants to make clear that the department store and American House LLC are two different entities and that the department store rents space from American House.

O’Neil said Wilson’s is not closing and will stay where it is, occupying three floors of the building, which will consist of the basement floor, street-level floor and second floor.

The upper floors of the building have been largely vacant over the years, and much of the former hotel space — its rooms and corridors — are still intact, although they would undergo extensive renovation.

O’Neil said he is excited that people will be able to stay in a hotel located in the heart of Greenfield’s downtown, shop at Wilson’s and other downtown stores, eat at a variety of restaurants the town now offers, and attend different events and activities.

He said nothing will change for the businesses leasing space in the building.

O’Neil said the addition will be built where the (former) GCTV cellar hole is and new parking spaces will be added where the apartment building that was destroyed by fire several years ago stood.

The entrance to the hotel will be on Chapman Street, where people will come in and take the elevator to the third floor. The new building will connect to the Wilson’s building and there will be a secure entrance into Wilson’s from the hotel.

The project will also need building permits and three permits from the town’s health department. Those are permits for running a hotel, a food service, because of the banquet hall and a small cafe that will offer breakfast foods, and the pool.

O’Neil said he hopes construction will begin this summer and take about 18 months. He said the bulk of the work will be done inside the current Wilson’s building, so there won’t be long interruptions along Main or Chapman streets.

The board members said they were pleased to see that no neighbors, other Greenfield hotels, or anyone else showed up at Thursday night’s public hearing to speak against the project.

“It’s a good project,” said member Scott Conti. “It’s a viable project because the owner has taken lots of care and shown lots of respect to the building.”

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