FARMINGTON — Information about Rick Collins’ proposal for a Best Western Plus hotel was shared with Planning Board members Monday night, Feb. 13.
Parent company Best Western is comprised of 18 hotel brands, has more than 4,700 hotels in 100 countries and territories, Jonathan Buck, regional director North American development for Best Western, said. Originally one brand, Best Western now has Best Western Plus, Best Western Premiere, and an economy brand SureStay by Best Western, with one of the latter now in Lewiston, he noted.
“Mr. Collins approached [Best Western] several years back about the possibility of bringing a hotel development project to Farmington,” Buck said. “I worked for the competition but when I joined the company 13-14 months ago they said ‘Farmington is on our radar.’ So I made a point to talk with Mr. Collins, make connections.”
Collins, [owner of Collins Enterprises in Wilton] was in the process of acquiring a parcel of land, was considering putting a hotel on this parcel of land, Buck said. Best Western looked at it, did some research on the market to see if it was economically feasible, he noted.
“The good news is that there is opportunity here,” Buck said. “There’s demand, there’s customers who are knocking on doors. They want to spend their dollars. If you look at the Comfort Inn, which is adjacent to Wilton, that property does very, very well.”
The Best Western Plus hotel would have a bed count of 70-75 rooms, with the actual number to be determined, Buck stated. The company has determined the site could conform and it would be a feasible project, he added.
According to a video shown the Planning Board, Best Western Plus hotels are three to four stories, offer complimentary breakfasts with hot items, typically have a 500 foot fitness center, indoor pool, free Wi-Fi and on site laundry/dry cleaning services. Exclusive member rates and rewards programs are available.
A Best Western Plus just opened in Rumford, has been a huge success, Buck said. Best Western is right for ‘upstate Maine’ as it is the largest hotel company with the largest footprint, he noted. Tourists familiar with a brand are loyal to it, that has been seen in Rumford, he added.
“Through research we found quite a bit of displacement in the region,” Buck said. “The region doesn’t have enough hotel rooms to support the demand. Some of that business was being displaced into neighboring markets 45-60 minutes from here. Rather than let all that economic impact leave town, this is an opportunity to keep that in town.”
There is a space between [Silver Shears] hair salon and [HealthQuest Chiropractic] before Farmington D and where Family Dollar was, Mellette Pepin, Collins’ office manager, replied when asked where it would be located. That would be the driveway, it goes back and then it opens up behind that, she noted.
Collins had owned Colonial Valley and Mt. Blue motels. In December he went before Farmington Selectmen seeking financial assistance for the proposed hotel and said he was in the process of selling those motels to Western Maine Community Action. Collins was told the board would have to see the business plan, projected financials and loans so the financial position of the project could be assessed.
“I have managed those two hotels for eight years,” Pepin said. “I can tell you there is never enough room, especially for people coming to work in the mills or the solar project. The solar project they have been booking up like crazy. It would be nice to have a bigger hotel, not just for the workers, but for the tourists.”
Buck said in an apples to apples comparison in this region it costs $200 for an overnight room, about $100 in Portland.
Using the chicken and egg comparison, “Do you build a hotel and things follow or do you build the sports complex first,” Buck asked. “I think this does open the door for other exciting opportunities.”
Several dates throughout the year, such as University of Maine Farmington graduation, were booked a year in advance, Pepin said. “We turned so many people away who are driving from Lewiston/Auburn area or even Augusta,” she added.
There may be an opportunity to suit both those looking for a few nights and those seeking an extended stay, Buck said.
The only non-profit hotel company, Best Western is owned by the members – those owning the hotels – who determine rates based on market demands, Buck said. Suggested prices are shared with owners to optimize their business, he added.
A meeting space accommodating 30 people, about 600 square feet, is required, Buck noted when asked about amenities. Collins may decide to do more than that, it would be welcomed, he added.
“It would be great to have a space for celebrations, marriages,” Steve Kaiser, code enforcement department head, said. Also for small conferences that wouldn’t pull more than 60, maybe 100 people, he noted.
“As long as the demand is there, I think it is worth looking at,” Buck said.
With work on the project still ongoing, Buck estimated an opening date of 18-24 months out.
“Since the pandemic, this is the economic segment that has thrived,” Buck stated. “These are not the hotels that suffered, these are the hotels that took care of the blue collar workers that still had to go to jobs. These are the nurses working in hospitals, the drivers that were on the road making emergency deliveries. The region probably saw an impact but the hotels that really took a hit were the inner city properties, everything downtown.
“We took really good care of our members. As someone who has worked in this for 21 years I can tell you there is no better company,” Buck said. “We care about the success of the project.”
“This site is known to the Department of Environmental Protection,” Kaiser said. “It was approved for an apartment complex, the wetlands are all mapped. It shouldn’t take a whole lot of time to get a site survey.” DEP can make amendments, not start from scratch, he noted. Farmington knows the plans for storm water, is willing to roll that over once the final plans are submitted, he added.
Having those processes already in place could cut half a year from the project, Kaiser estimated.
Water, sewer and electric are available now.
Kaiser suggested Collins speak with appropriate department heads. The completed application must be submitted before the Planning Board will start its review, he noted.
“Things are looking good at this point,” Kaiser said.
After the meeting Kaiser said Coastal Enterprises Incorporated had suggested building an apartment complex on the property 12 to 15 years ago. Collins had been considering putting something behind the Colonial Valley Motel before COVID-19 hit, he added.
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