Athol board reviews preferences for hotel project

The site of a proposed hotel/conference center lies just beyond the parking lot to Dollar Tree and several other businesses. 

The site of a proposed hotel/conference center lies just beyond the parking lot to Dollar Tree and several other businesses.  FILE PHOTO/GREG VINE

By GREG VINE

For the Athol Daily News

Published: 01-12-2024 5:00 PM

ATHOL — Members of the Economic Development and Industrial Corporation looked at what they wanted – and didn’t want – in any hotel that might be built on corporation property near North Quabbin Commons.

At its meeting on Wednesday, Jan. 10, the EDIC made its wishes known in a meeting with Emily Keyes Innes of Innes Associates Ltd., the consultant chosen to develop a request for proposal (RFP) for developers and hotel chains for the construction of a hotel and event space on property adjacent to the Dollar Tree and Wendy’s restaurant, near Exit 77 off Route 2.

In addition to preparing the RFP, Innes Associates will gather information to support the document; develop a timeline for advertisement, accept proposals and select a developer, and present a final draft of the RFP for the EDIC. Once proposals are received, the consultant with meet with the EDIC to rank each submission.

“A large part of our conversation is what things do you want to see from the developers,” said Innes, “and how do we set that up. There is a specific process about how the RFP has to be published in the (state’s) Central Register. There are deadlines for that, how long the RFP can be out for, and then the process for what you do when the developers’ proposals come back in. So, we’ll be working our way, step-by-step, through this process.”

In addition to publication in the Central Register, said Innes, a geographic analysis will also be done, which is “designed to find either franchisees of hotel chains or hotel chains themselves; the vice-president of real estate or whatever names we would send the RFP to. We’ll also be looking for publications for the hotel industry that we can submit it to.”

The analysis will also identify major chains and franchisees within an hour or two drive from the site.

A feasibility study done in 2019 and funded by MassDevelopment indicated the area could support a hotel of 70 to 80 rooms. EDIC members indicated they would prefer to see a facility made up of 100 rooms.

Innes then asked the members about some of their priorities for the development.

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“So, we need some sort of even space,” said Rebecca Bialecki. “I think a conference center would be lovely, but I don’t think it’s a must have as opposed to an event space. We’re desperately in need of something that will hold a couple of hundred people.”

Mark Wright said he envisioned a large ballroom that could be broken down into four or five units for smaller events.

“We lost our largest event and wedding place recently,” said EDIC Chair Keith McGuirk, referring to the Athol-Orange Elks Lodge, which closed its doors in January 2018. “In the whole area, there’s no real conference center or event space.”

“I would love to see a place that’s mid-priced,” Bialecki added. “We are not a high-end hotel region. So, we’re not looking for something like a Super 8 or a Motel 6. We don’t have public transportation or the infrastructure to support a place that might be used as a shelter. I think we’re looking at something along the level of a Holiday Inn.”

McGuirk said it will be important to let potential chains or developers know that the area in question is zoned to accommodate a hotel/event space. EDIC Clerk Sarah Schouler suggested making developers aware of the amount of ecotourism available in the area, pointing out the proximity of Quabbin Reservoir and numerous hiking trails.

Innes said she would do some initial work on developing the RFP and will return to Athol for the EDIC meeting in February.

Greg Vine can be reached at gvineadn@gmail.com.