ROCKINGHAM — The Windham Development Group would like to revitalize the historic Windham Hotel at The Square in Bellows Falls with hopes of bringing economic growth to the village.
Rockingham Select Board approved a loan of $30,000 for Windham Development at 2 percent interest with two years of deferred payments and regular payments for the remaining five years. The loan will cover a feasibility study of the proposed concept. One principal of Windham Development signed a personal guarantee for the loan.
The hotel structure is a three-story, flat-roofed brick building on the east side of The Square, and was constructed from 1932 to 1933. It was sold to the Windham Development Group in 2007 and in January 2012, the Popolo Restaurant moved in to join other tenants such as Village Square Booksellers and The Rock and Hammer jewelry store. Phase two of this project, if approved, would include seven residential apartments and 20 hotel rooms on the second and third floors.
"The idea is that the hotel becomes an economic engine for the town and allows us, those people who do promotions in town, to have more access to people coming into town, staying in town and spending money in town at all the various outlets where one would spend money in town," said Gary Smith, co-founder and general manager of Popolo Restaurant, and one of five spearheading this proposal.
According to Smith, the $30,000 revolving loan will include $20,000 for Stevens Associates to complete the feasibility study, $6,500 for the market analysis, and $3,500 for administration costs.
Smith and the others who are spearheading this project feel that the hotel would bring to or keep in visitors to Bellows Falls. He mentioned Bellows Falls offers a multitude of entertainment opportunities, especially with the Opera House that draws people in from far away.
"You know I've always looked at the Opera House as economic development," said Select Board member Ann DiBernardo, "because if you've ever been there and talked to people they come from a 30-mile radius, so that's what we need."
DiBernardo and Vice Chairman Joshua Hearne voiced their support for the project. Hearne added that not having a place to house visitors has been a "competitive disadvantage" compared to other towns like Northampton, Mass., Keene, N.H., and Rutland. According to Smith, the aim is to begin with marketing to people from around New England and New York.
"One way we would do that would be to use Charlie Hunter's expertise in trains to bring people on private rail cars attached to Amtrak as part of a whole experience of leaving Manhattan and coming to the country in these private cars, 36 at a time, spending the weekend here in Vermont using the hotel, the restaurants and obviously some people would stay at B&Bs and would become an adjunct to a sort of larger lodging community," said Smith.
Smith suggested the only way to know if this project is worthwhile is to run a feasibility study that will determine what it will cost to put the building back together.
Select Board Chairman Lamont Barnett removed himself from the discussion because he is a tenant of the Windham Hotel. Barnett turned the meeting over to Vice Chairman Joshua Hearne.
The Select Board appointed Katie Dearborn, a member of the Revolving Loan Fund Committee from Mascoma Bank, as temporary chair of the committee.
Maddi Shaw can be reached at 802-254-2311 ext 275