|Former Southern Vermont College Site Sold to Developer|
|By Stephen Dravis, iBerkshires Staff|
05:30PM / Friday, March 17, 2023
|The developer who purchased the former Southern Vermont College campus from Southwestern Vermont Health Care plans to transform dormitories into high-end hotel rooms.|
Alfred Weissman of New York describes his plans for the former college campus on Friday morning in Bennington.
BENNINGTON, Vt. — Predicting about 150 new jobs for the area, a New York real estate developer Friday announced plans to create a "four- or five-star hotel" reusing the buildings on the former Southern Vermont College campus.
Alfred Weissman Real Estate of Westchester County has entered an agreement with Southwestern Vermont Health Care to purchase the 371-acre campus the Bennington hospital acquired in December 2020.
"It's going to be known for being a luxury spa hotel culinary resort," Alfred Weissman told a group of Bennington civic leaders gathered in the former library of the college, which shuttered in May 2019.
"It'll be a place where you can get away. There will be a huge amount of personal service and guest service. That's kind of what it will be known for. Just the way the Everetts used to come here and enjoy this as a place of peace and quiet and rest and activity, other people will get to enjoy what the Everetts enjoyed back in the day."
The library where he spoke is located in what is known as the Everett Mansion, a 27-room Gilded Age structure built by Edward Everett, a Cleveland businessman.
The mansion will be central to what Weissman described as a 130-unit three-season resort that will utilize the former college dormitories and gymnasium.
Although his firm has a signed agreement with SVHC, the closing process and Act 250 permitting process will take about a year, Weissman said on Friday morning. He expects to begin the renovation process in about a year.
No new construction is immediately planned on the property, and the only demolition on the agenda is the removal of exterior fire escapes that were added to the original mansion during its years as a college building, Weissman said. In a future phase of development, Weissman said he could foresee adding new buildings to create villas at the resort.
He said the plan is to hire locally, adding more than 100 jobs to the local economy. The acquisition also puts the property back on the local property tax roll, and the resort guests will help add foot traffic to Bennington's downtown, Weissman said.
"This is a really great day for Bennington, a great opportunity for Bennington," Town Manager Stuart Hurd said.
"This is the opportunity for all of us to really gain an understanding of the importance of this site and these buildings."
SVHC President and CEO Thomas A. Dee likened the hospital's sale of the former college site to its involvement with the mixed-use redevelopment of the Putnam Block in downtown Bennington.
"As you know, for the past 2 1/2 years, SVHC has been utilizing the former SVC campus as the health center's COVID resources center," Dee said. "During this time, we've treated and cared for over 60,000 people in our community during the pandemic. With the pandemic now getting behind us, it's time to move forward with the plan to fully utilize this beautiful asset as part of SVHC's effort to support our community from both an economic development standpoint and for community enjoyment."
The development plan preserves the campus' Bennington Area Trail System, which will remain open to the public under an easement with the Vermont Land Trust, Weissman said.
"The trails are one of the biggest and best amenities we can offer people," he said.
Other amenities he talked about on Friday morning include conversion of the college gymnasium to event space and, perhaps, a pool and high-end bowling lanes for guests.
The library where Friday's announcement was held will be a high-end dining area for the to-be-named resort. Weissman said he envisions using the former college cafeteria as a casual pub and bistro.
The second floor of the Everett Mansion will be converted to five suites, and the third floor will be used for spa space, Weissman said.
SVHC's Dee said the former college property drew interest from 80 or 90 potential developers through a broker, and the hospital had serious conversations with about eight or nine before reaching an agreement with AWRE.
The deal announced Friday includes plans for the hospital to retain five or six acres on the lower part of the campus, where the former SVC baseball field is located. Given that site's challenge with drainage, continued use as an athletic field is unlikely, Dee said. The hospital is looking at a variety of potential uses for the land, which is located across the street from the SVHC campus.
Weissman said Friday that it is possible the resort will be affiliated with a national brand, like Miraval Resorts, which operates the former Cranwell Spa and Golf Resort in Lenox, but it is too soon to speculate which "flag" may fly at the new resort.
"We've reached out to several of the high-end brands," he said. "I can't mention any names right now. And they all have expressed interest in it.
"Why wouldn't they? They all jumped on Google when I spoke to them, and they were like, 'Whoa.' It's spectacular. It's a 30,000-square-foot mansion. It's something really, really unique and exciting."