Hotel planned for Wilson’s
Downtown store to remain intact with rooms, banquet facilities on upper floors
The owners of the building that is home to Wilson’s Department Store on Main Street in Greenfield are still trying to build a hotel and banquet facility in the upper floors of the building. (Recorder file/Paul Franz)
Kevin O’Neil, president of Wilson’s and American House LLC, in the fifth floor of the building, that was part of the former hotel over the existing department store.
The building’s owner plans to construct an entrance to the hotel in the two vacant lots on Chapman Street that they already own.
GREENFIELD — An upscale hotel with banquet facilities is being planned for the heart of downtown — promising the return of an urban amenity the town hasn’t seen for a half-century.
As conceived now, a 62-room hotel and banquet hall would be built into the upper three floors above Wilson’s Department Store with a formal entrance on Chapman Street.
The plan would 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. The plan also calls for restoring the building’s century-old brick facade.
Wilson’s President Kevin O’Neil, a partner of American House LLC, which owns the block, said it would be an upscale hotel with a banquet hall that could be leased by individuals, companies and private groups. American House LLC has begun the process of getting a special permit from the town and envisions completing the project within three years. American House is the name of one of the earliest hotels to operate on the site.
O’Neil said he loves the idea of bringing a hotel back to the downtown, especially above Wilson’s, because one was located there from 1882 to the early 1960s, when Hotel Greenfield went out of business.
He said the hotel would target patrons like parents visiting children attending area private schools, as well as those traveling to Greenfield to attend special events and attractions like the Green River Festival each July.
Greenfield has seen a need for larger banquet facilities in recent years.
“First, I want to make clear that Wilson’s and American House LLC are two different entities,” he said. The department store rents its space from American House.
“Second, Wilson’s is not closing and will stay where it is. We think this is going to be a good thing for the town and for business.”
He said Wilson’s will occupy three floors, which will consist of the basement floor, street-level floor and second floor. He said everything on Wilson’s third floor will be moved and the hotel will occupy it and the two floors above. The upper floors 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 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.
O’Neil said nothing will change for the businesses leasing space in the building, but he said he really wanted the building to go back to its roots.
“We will build a new building off of Chapman Street, where the (former) GCTV cellar hole is and where the apartment building that was destroyed by fire several years ago stood,” said O’Neil. “That’s where the entrance to the hotel would be. People would come in from Chapman Street and take the elevator to the third floor.”
The new building would connect to the Wilson’s building and there would be an entrance into Wilson’s from the hotel.
There would be plenty of parking for Wilson’s shoppers and hotel guests, because Wilson’s has free parking to its rear and side and there is a large town lot behind the rear store lot.
“We’ve got some hurdles to clear, but I’m hoping we have everything we need in place by summer and can begin construction,” said O’Neil, who said American House LLC currently estimates the project will take about 18 months to complete once it has its financing and permits.
“This is definitely a positive thing for Greenfield and its economy and it should help draw even more people here,” said O’Neil.
Ann Hamilton, president of the Franklin County Chamber of Commerce, agrees.
“Boutique hotels are very popular and are popping up all over the place,” she said. “This is a great idea for Greenfield. It’s going to be a great boon for tourism.”
Hamilton said she has spoken with parents who regularly visit their children at area private schools, as well as visitors who have come to Greenfield for a variety of reasons over the years, and found they have all had the same request: that there be a place, either within or close to the downtown, where they could stay during their visit.
“Putting it above Wilson’s makes sense and would be so convenient,” said Hamilton. “People could walk to and from the train station, when it gets here, with their suitcases.”
Hamilton said those staying in the hotel would be within walking distance of a variety of restaurants, including fine dining, Thai, Mexican, American and Indian, as well as numerous cafes and pizza places.
“Just the idea of having a downtown hotel is interesting to me and I know it will be to others,” said Hamilton.
O’Neil said he’s sure the project will move forward, but for that to happen, it will need to secure financing, receive federal, state and historic tax credits, and be issued the permits it needs from the town. The town Zoning Board of Appeals would have to issue a special permit.
He said the project has already been approved for federal tax credits, which will pay for a percentage of the project, and will go before the Zoning Board of Appeals in January or February.
O’Neil, who said he is not yet sure the cost of the project, said one of the more exciting aspects of the project is that the white, vented metal facade, which was installed in 1965, will be removed, except for the Wilson’s sign just above the store’s display windows, to reveal the historic brick building. That building includes corbelled brick cornice, double-hung windows, granite sills and segmental arches.
“This would be wonderful for Greenfield,” said Mayor William Martin, who said people visiting the area have time and again expressed to him their dismay at the lack of a smaller, more upscale hotel in Greenfield.
O’Neil said he has been marketing the upper floors of the department store for about 15 years, but never found anyone who was seriously interested. He said he finally found an “existing hotel operator” who loves the idea and wants to be O’Neil’s partner in the project.
“I needed someone like that,” said O’Neil. “You can’t just build a hotel and hope ‘they will come.’ You have to have someone who knows what they’re doing and I found that person.”
O’Neil said he does not want to reveal the name of that person until he is more sure of where the project is headed.
The Wilson’s block extends from the department store to Taylor’s Tavern. Cleary Jewelers and Hen and Chicks also occupy street-level spaces in the block, which has been called the American House Block or Wilson Block over the years.