November 21, 2017BETHLEHEM—A new hotel will bolster Bethlehem's reputation as hospitality capitol of the north country, as well as breathe new life into the historic Baker Brook cabin site. Receiving preliminary site approval last Wednesday, the hotel looks to be a signature addition to the West Bethlehem skyline, even as its developer clashes with Northern Pass.
The Homewoods Suites is a joint project between a New York-based developer and Hilton hotels, which is contributing its brand, designs, and consulting resources. Brooklyn-based developer Yitz Rudich bought the burned-out shell of the old Baker Brook motel for $600,000.
The 42-acres Baker Brook parcel includes several high-value wetlands, which the hotel will take special care to protect according to Portsmouth-based Eckman Engineering.
The hotel will employ between 12 and 15 people, and is expected to generate more than $300,000 in annual revenues. Total construction costs will run between $15 million and $20 million.
The hotel will include 85 units, down from the 110 the investor wanted to begin with. Hilton's economic projections suggested that a smaller number of units would prove more profitable given the area's demand.
The main building will cover some 19,500 square feet, with a little over 1,100 feet of frontage. The cabins around the lake will be remodeled, and the lake's poor water quality will be addressed.
His client "wants that to be a working pond," Eckman said.
The dramatic side of the project is the small square of land on the road side, currently owned by Eversource, and initially planned to hold a key juncture on the proposed transmission route. Indeed, Bethlehem is where the lines are planned to dip underground for 60 miles, before resurfacing south of Lincoln.
Naturally, the developer was not thrilled at the idea of a major transmission line running past his upscale hotel. Negotiations with Eversource were supposed to have produced a memorandum of understanding that the 135-foot tower could be built 3000 feet back from the road. Mr. Rudich was so confident in the arrangement with Northern Pass that he wrote them a letter of support.
Now it seems that Northern Pass may be reneging on that deal. Word from Mr. Rudich is that the latest plans put the tower smack dab where it originally was, astride the well-landscaped entrance.
"He feels a little bit betrayed," said Eckman, who nonetheless assured the board that he is "financially vested" and determined to get the deal done.
Without the deal to move the tower, "He probably would not have bought the property," Eckman admitted.
Eckman added, however, that "He's confident, and wants to go forward."
Initially, the plan had been for a "lower end strip hotel," Eckman explained, but studies suggested that it wouldn't support itself in the Bethlehem area. Thenceforth, the idea developed for a higher-end, extended-stay facility. He said the hotel would fill a different niche than the business- and weekend-traveler focused Littleton Hilton.
The site already has access to town water, which reaches all the way down to the Elks club. The hotel will not produce any power under normal circumstances, but emergency generators will be able to handle the full load during outages.
Rudich is so eager to start construction, Eckman said, that he inquired whether construction could go forward in stages, the first of which would begin placing the foundation, which has no wetlands impact.
"It's his risk," Eckman explained, "If something happened to the other permits, there's nothing that would fall on the town."
The final wetlands permits, required for the proposed phase 2, may require as much as six months to be finalized, a delay that they'd like to shave off the project.
Selectman Martin Glavac added his support, as did citizen Chris McGrath in a letter. The board appeared generally encouraging towards the project, and verified the site review checklist with only a few qualifications. Chairman Michael Bruno was especially enthused:
"I think it would be a nice addition to our community," Bruno said.