At a press conference Monday morning at West Hartford Town Hall, Town Manager Ron Van Winkle made the announcement that many were waiting to years to hear.
"A high quality hotel is something we've been looking for, for more than a decade," Van Winkle said.
Van Winkle announced that Delamar West Hartford LLC – a joint venture of Greenwich Hospitality Corp. of Greenwich, CT, which operates a number of hotels in Connecticut, including the Delamar Greenwich Harbor Hotel and the Delamar Southport, and The Matos Group, LLC, a real estate development firm based in East Hartford, CT – has been chosen out of the three finalists interviewed to develop a hotel on Raymond Road in West Hartford's Blue Back Square.
"Their presentation just blew us out of the water," Van Winkle said of Delamar. The committee felt that the group clearly understood the market, and would be able to develop the 90 Raymond Road property into a boutique hotel unique to the area.
Dan Matos, president of The Matos Group (TMG) and a partner in the newly-formed Delamar West Hartford LLC, brought a personal element to the proposal. The Blue Back Square resident believes he knows exactly what the town is trying to achieve with this development.
"West Hartford needed other important assets to build the Center, to achieve the vision. One of those is a hotel," Matos said. "There is no other hotel like the Delamar Hotel in all of the region."
Matos, whose company has worked locally on development projects that include Cabela's, Rentschler Field, and the UConn Business School, as well as nationally for companies that include FedEx, Ford Motor Company, and Home Depot, said the Delamar Hotel will "lift up the entire region," increasing employment and bringing needed resources to the area.
"We were very excited when we heard about the opportunity," said Charles Mallory, founder and partner of the Greenwich Hospitality Group. "Other than Fairfield County, this is the only place [in Connecticut] we would consider for this type of hotel."
Mallory said that the region's hotel inventory is essentially national flags at the mid-level, corporate/convention level or less, and he believes the area's demography and corporate demand will support a high level boutique hotel. Mallory cited the similarities between West Hartford and the towns of Greenwich and Southport, where the Greenwich Hospitality Group has recently developed its top-line Delamar hotels.
The region's educational institutions, world class museums, and proximity to the state capitol as well as ESPN also make West Hartford a desirable location for the planned development, Mallory said.
"West Hartford is a wonderful location and I understand why people want to be here. It's a dream come true from our point of view – a great fit – an opportunity to build something great," Mallory said. He hopes to bring residents of the area a special place to host life's memories – weddings, family reunions, Bar Mitzvahs, he said.
Senior Vice President, Sales & Marketing for Greenwich Hospitality Group Samantha Stout grew up in the area, and attended Renbrook School from kindergarten through 9th grade. Her parents still live here.
"This is a distinct brand. It really is about creating an experience, creating memories. For this community it's the right fit, and will be a very personalized experience," she said.
The Raymond Road property has already been declared surplus by the town, and Van Winkle said that the arrangement with Delamar will be either a lease or sale. The next phase will be specific site development, and then plans will be brought to the Town Council for approval.
Van Winkle said that late spring/early summer is the goal for zoning approval, and then the project will be able to move forward. Matos said that the current plan is still in the concept stage, and there will be a lot more input before it is finalized.
Mallory said that the initial plan is just "blocking and massing," and much more work will be done on the design. A sketch of the proposed hotel is included, but all parties agree that it is just a concept, and the façade will still need to be determined. Mallory hopes to bring in some of the "quirkiness" and "charm" of the other Delamar hotels. "This is a wonderful opportunity to build on [the area's] architectural history," he said.
When constructed, the hotel will include 100-120 rooms. Mallory said there would be a "wide variety of rooms and suites, including some that cater to 'presidential' sorts of visitors."
It will be a "full scale hotel with a great restaurant," said Mallory, adding that both the Delamar Greenwich and Delamar Southport hotel restaurants have four-star ratings. Delamar Greenwich has just been named to Travel & Leisure's top 500 list for the second year in a row, one of only two Connecticut hotels on the list.
The hotel will also contain:
- Banquet space for 300-400, which will be flexible and able to be scaled back for smaller gatherings. The banquet space will also be adaptable for convention gatherings, and will open up onto the lawn overlooking Trout Brook. It may have a separate entrance.
- Spa facility. This will include beauty and massage therapy, but will not try to compete with existing facilities such as New York Sports Club in Blue Back Square.
- Rooftop components to take advantage of the open views. Mallory said the roof may be the location for the spa, health center, a food and beverage spot, and/or maybe a small pool.
- Retail facility/gallery. This will be pedestrian friendly and build on the existing aspects of Blue Back Square, Mallory said.
Mallory said there will be extensive landscaping – "an opportunity to be really beautiful."
Stout said that "green and efficient systems" are also very important to the development. "The project will be designed to a LEED gold standard," she said.
As for parking, Mallory said, "That's always the 800-pound gorilla in every development, other than this one."
He and Matos both said that the hotel will be able to "share the town's assets" and utilize the existing garages at Blue Back Square (Memorial and Isham) as well as the surface lot at Town Hall, during a time that they would otherwise not be occupied. Any parking on site at the hotel would be very limited, said Matos.
Matos said that when the group began looking into this project, the first thing they did was walk around Blue Back Square and the Center. "We aren't going to duplicate that, but will add to the assets of the community," he said.
The process of developing Blue Back Square was extremely complicated, with a public/private partnership that resulted in extensive lobbying and a referendum before building could commence. "This is a business relationship," said Van Winkle and will not be as time consuming.
The hope is for the Delamar West Hartford to be open for business in less than three years. "When we started the conversation we were very conservative about the schedule. We said Christmas 2015, but in Charles' and my book we'd like to beat that," Matos said.
"These are Connecticut people designing a hotel for Connecticut people," Matos said. "And we want the community involved in the process."