By CRAIG FREILICH
POTSDAM – After more than 30 years of hoping and searching by community leaders, work on Potsdam’s first national chain hotel has finally begun.
Construction of a 95-room Hampton Inn is now underway at the 3.44 acre lot at 167 Market St., just south of McDonald’s and is expected to take a year of work.
Trenches have been dug and concrete footers have been poured as the first steps in raising the hotel, “based on one of the newest prototype Hampton Inns,” according to developer Andy Patel of Visions Hotels of Corning.
“They probably hope to tent the area they’ll be working in,” Potsdam Code Enforcement Officer Gregory Thompson said of working on a new building through the winter.
“There are ways like that to work around the weather. They have to be more painstaking, too,” Thompson said.
The multi-story Hampton Inn will have an indoor swimming pool, a fitness room, and a small meeting room. Patel expects it to cost $6 million to $7 million, and about a year, to build.
Developer Patel, who has been in the hotel business for more than 25 years, has Visions Hotels properties in Watertown and Central and Western New York. He has discussed ideas for hotels over the years with planners in the region and has made prospecting trips to the North Country to gauge the need for hotels and availability of property.
He even voiced a plan for a Hampton Inn in Canton a couple of years ago on property to the east of the University Plaza on U.S. 11, but he said that project would not go forward anytime soon if the Potsdam development went ahead.
The community has officially and unofficially sought a hotel for the village for decades. With only a few locally owned motels and the higher-priced upscale Clarkson Inn in Potsdam to accommodate visitors, inviting people to come to Potsdam for major local events such as graduations, alumni weekends and sports tournaments was made more difficult by a lack of enough nearby lodging facilities.
“The development of a hotel has figured very highly in village economic development plans for years. It’s a major goal,” Potsdam Director of Planning and Development Fred Hanss said when Patel’s plan was announced a year ago in November 2012.
Hanss said his office would give a hotel development in the village high priority and would render whatever assistance they could to someone with a serious plan.
“We have worked with a number of hotel developers over the years,” Hanss said, although none of those earlier meetings resulted in a thorough plan.
A decade ago, there was talk of bringing in a hotel developer for a lot next to Mama Lucia where Potsdam Feed and Coal had been for decades. It was contaminated by petroleum pollution, but ad just been cleaned up.
In 2007, it appeared that a hotel development was moving forward there through Potsdam Hospitality Holdings, LLC, a company formed for the purpose by Sonny Patel and Jay Modhwadiya of Kingston, N.Y. But after an initial flurry of announcements and statements, the idea seemed to dissolve.
In the year since the latest plan was first revealed, Syracuse engineering firm Clough Harbour and Associates has done their research and made presentations to planning authorities in the village and at the county offices. They got site plan review approval and have filed a building permit with the village.
Visions Hotel’s Andy Patel paid $1.2 million for the lot to owner Jim Sheehan, whose commercial tenants and his own business have moved to make way for the hotel.
Sheehan’s Scoopuccino’s coffee shop building there has been moved to a lot near Lowe’s; Ton’s Sports Bar has reopened as Half Ton’s at the former Tardelli’s Restaurant a little closer to downtown; and Village Florist has moved to 75 Market St.
Now ground has been broken at the Market Street site, and concrete has been poured. Heavy machines, workers and materials are evident there.
So it seems that those who have said they will “believe it when I see it” might be seeing – and believing – before very long.