Gabe Handy returns to the village planning commission this week for a final site plan review of a proposal that would completely alter the look of a mostly dormant stretch of Pearl Street.
Thursday’s hearing centers on Handy’s plan to build a 100-unit, four-story hotel and a separate restaurant on properties he purchased several years ago between 92-100 Pearl St. He believes the project can fulfill a need for more short-term lodging in the village.
“It’s all positive,” Handy said of the project, a clear allusion to the pushback he received from his last proposal. “It’s the right location for it, the building is going to fit in nicely with the surrounding areas [and it’s] going to benefit the fairgrounds. That’s the whole purpose of this.”
Tim Shea, executive director of the Champlain Valley Exposition, agreed with the assessment. He said the hotel would be a great amenity for CVE as it looks to attract people and events during the fair off-season, or the “other 355 days of the year.”
“Anytime you see an investment like that taking place in the village, it’s very encouraging,” he said. “The fact that they’re investing in the village speaks a lot about the potential.”
The village also seems to agree: Staff previously wrote that a small hotel might be a good option for the property given its proximity to the fairgrounds, and last week, development director Robin Pierce recommended the PC approve Handy’s proposal.
“This is a much-needed development proposal in a location that is most appropriate for the village,” Pierce wrote in a staff report.
Handy is switching up from his usual hotel partner, Hyatt, to work with Choice Hotels. He said that helps him diversify his portfolio and not cut into his other businesses; the new hotel will be his fourth, if approved.
A Choice Hotels rep planned to share a presentation on what the market suggests for this area, though Handy expected about half of his units will be extended stay. He noted his new project comes amid a boom in the local hotel market, with more than 400 rooms proposed between Interstate 89 Exits 12 and 14.
“Will I be full every day? No, never going to happen,” he said. But he’s banking on few vacancies for five months of the year and said he’s in a “good position” with his other hotels.
“The pie is getting smaller and smaller, but if we all just sit back and do nothing, then it will be a shortage again of rooms like it used to be eight to 10 years ago,” he said.
The proposal is Handy’s first to hit the village PC after a long and arduous process to greenlight his senior housing proposal on Park Street. With his nearest neighbors being the railroad and the Dollar Tree building, which he owns, he expected an easier path to approval this time.
A pair of local business owners hopes that’s the case.
“All the venues that come to the fairgrounds all year long, all the people that show up to be here, they go to Burlington, they go to Williston, they go to South Burlington and Colchester,” said Larry Bissonnette, co-owner of the BBQ food truck, Still Smok’n Vt.
“Why not keep the revenue right here in Essex?” he asked.
Handy called the duo a good prospect to take up residency in his new restaurant. The Bissonnettes seemed interested in the idea, especially given the proximity to the hotel and the fact the restaurant would go up right where their food truck is now.
Still, they need to hear more details about the project and its timeline, they said. What’s clear to them is Handy’s project is needed.
“It’s a perfect spot,” Phillip Bissonnette said.