Bennington Select Board hesitates on hotel study

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BENNINGTON — The Bennington Select Board has tabled a motion to fund a study that would have determined if a hotel would be viable downtown.

The board tabled the plan on Monday after two local business owners spoke out against it, claiming a new hotel would cut into their customer base. The proposal, from Pinnacle Advisory Group, had come to the town through the Bennington Redevelopment Group, which is working towards purchasing the former Putnam Hotel property on Main Street. That group has said a hotel does not fit into its plans for the property at this time, but passed the proposal along to the town in case town officials were interested in determining the viability of a hotel in the downtown in a more general sense.

Board members seemed supportive of the idea at their last meeting, but on Monday several members expressed hesitance with the proposal, before the public commented.

Board member Jeannie Jenkins said, "The study is predicated on the idea that this community would like to have a hotel in the downtown. The reason to go into it, given all the unknowns, is that we think that this is a good thing to do, that if we can support it, we do want it to happen. And I'm not sure that we're all in agreement on that, or that the community is."

Board member Michael Keane said the study would allow them to determine for sure whether additional rooms in the downtown area are needed, and pointed out that data is always valuable. "We often deal with anecdotal information," he said, "and data can be very good."

Board member Donald Campbell pointed out in response that if the study comes back inconclusive, or isn't useful, it would mean wasted money for the town.

Ed Woods, current president of the Bennington Area Chamber of Commerce and one of the owners of the Knotty Pine Motel on Northside Drive (Woods also was the publisher of the Bennington Banner), and Lynn Green, owner of the Four Chimneys Inn on Route 9 West, gave a presentation arguing against the study.

"Ed and I, and each of you from what I've seen, we all share one common thread," said Green to the board, "and that is that we want to see Bennington thrive."

Green criticized the position that there was nothing to lose by moving forward with the study. "We have existing industry here, and these are community members," she said, "whether it's the Knotty Pine, the Hampton Inn, South Shire, we're all already here, we're tax paying citizens contributing to this community. I'd like to hear a little bit about what the impact on our businesses would be... If a hotel developer wants to come to town and conduct this study, that's free market forces at work. That to me is just the way it is. I compete in that, and that's my job. However, it's the use of town funds to fund a feasibility study... that's not a level playing field."

"In this town right now, we're not drawing that critical mass," said Chairman Tom Jacobs, "For a certain part of the year, your rooms are full. In other parts of the year, it's a challenge. Somehow, if we could even out that by having more activity in the community that generates bed need, then I think that's really what we should be looking at."

Woods agreed, "If we could generate the need that would level it out, that makes good sense. We're not there."

Jacobs said the board would "keep its powder dry" and table the issue for now, although the board could revisit it in the future.

Contact Derek Carson at 802-447-7567, ext. 122.


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