Plans pitched to replace Howard Johnson motel in Hadley

  • The Howard Johnson motel at 401 Russell Street (Rt. 9) in Hadley. Photographed on Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2021. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • The Howard Johnson motel at 401 Russell Street (Rt. 9) in Hadley. Photographed on Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2021. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • The Howard Johnson motel at 401 Russell Street (Rt. 9) in Hadley. Photographed on Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2021. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • The Howard Johnson motel at 401 Russell Street (Rt. 9) in Hadley. Photographed on Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2021. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

Staff Writer
Published: 10/23/2021 4:08:03 PM

HADLEY — A potential development that would include a new office building might lead to the closing and demolition of a prominent Route 9 hotel that has been part of the town’s commercial strip since the 1960s.

But Hampshire Hospitality Group CEO J. Curtis Shumway said last week that no decisions have yet been made on what option to pursue at the 401 Russell St. site, where the Howard Johnson motel opened in 1966.

“It’s a class A location, but no longer a class A hotel,” Shumway said of the hotel that has 100 rooms, including a 40-room addition constructed in the mid-1990s, and a renovation completed 20 years ago.

“We know there needs to be a significant investment in that property,” Shumway said. “We will go through the entire process with an office building and will consider that as an alternative.”

Shumway said though an office building is being considered, there is no tenant yet. “A lot of stars have to line up,” is the way he described the possibility of moving forward with such a project at the Planning Board meeting last Tuesday night.

Plans presented to the board show a 40,500 square foot, three-story office building along the road with its entrance facing the large parking area behind it.

When opened as the Howard Johnson Motor Lodge, the hotel had the classic steeply pitched orange roof serving as the lobby building and an attached Howard Johnson Restaurant. The old lobbies, known as gate lodges, were a staple of the Howard Johnson system since the company opened its first restaurant in 1925 and its first motor lodge in 1954. The gate lodge in Hadley was torn down when the 1994 expansion was complete.

Shumway said the hotel also hosted the wives and girlfriends of Boston Patriots players when the football team trained on the University of Massachusetts campus. Shumway said he has fond memories of those families enjoying the swimming pool, as well as the 28 flavors of ice cream served at the restaurant.

If the office building moves forward, Shumway said it would most likely be designed similar to the red brick buildings on Atwood Drive in Northampton, which were built following the demolition of the Clarion Hotel that occupied that site immediately off Interstate 91.

One of the two curb cuts from Route 9 would also be eliminated, and the parking area along the road would be seeded and landscaped. The alternate entrance and exit from Westgate Center Drive that passes by the Staples store would be retained.

Though any decision to level the hotel would mean a loss of rooms in the area, Shumway said his view is that the area has reached the saturation point.

“Is there demand for as many hotels as we have?” Shumway said. “That’s always a delicate question. My opinion is there's no question we have too many hotel rooms in our market.”

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, hotels would only do well for six to seven months, meaning that close to half the year they were running in the red. Shumway said hotels can't succeed on Friday, Saturday and Sunday business alone.

Already, Route 9 has seen the Rodeway Inn, owned by Pioneer Valley Hotel Group, close, though plans have been approved for redevelopment of that site with a new hotel.

Claudia Pazmany, executive director of the Amherst Area Chamber of Commerce, said the difficulty for area hotels is they get booked solid in the fall, but have many vacancies at other times of year. Still, any possible displacement of rooms would put more pressure on other area hotels during peak times, and area housing, to some extent.

A redevelopment of the site, should it happen, could be a net positive, Pazmany said.

“A transition of office space could produce new opportunities for more employment and possibly higher paying jobs and can be seen as a great opportunity,” Pazmany said.

There have also been challenges in reopening. Shumway said he reopened the Hadley EconoLodge three months late due to lack of staff and the need to offer significant wage increases to attract help.

If Howard Johnson does close, Hampshire Hospitality would continue to run three Route 9 hotels, including the EconoLodge, the rebranded Comfort Inn & Suites that is in its second phase of renovation and the Courtyard by Marriott, as well as University Lodge in Amherst.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.

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