After quiet opening, city hotel looks to have loud impact
By Anika Clark
The much anticipated Fairfield Inn & Suites New Bedford is taking reservations after opening Thursday [May 26]. What the soft kickoff lacked in fanfare it made up for in enthusiasm as staff celebrated the first hotel to open in downtown New Bedford in more than four decades.
“We’re all excited to be here,” general manager Shelly Perry said less than one hour after Marriott gave the official go-ahead to allow the infant inn to accept reservations for that night and begin taking guests.
“We have over 3,000 group rooms booked for the rest of 2010,” said Tim Burkhardt, vice president of hotel operations for developer Lafrance Hospitality Co. “We probably have close to 1,000 transient rooms on the book.”
By about 1:30 p.m. Thursday, the five-story hotel on the waterfront at 185 MacArthur Drive had about 25 reservations for the first night, according to Perry.
Among those planning to sleep over were Richard Lafrance, CEO of Lafrance Hospitality, a Westport-based family company whose businesses include several other hotels, White’s of Westport, Rachel’s Lakeside in Dartmouth, Bittersweet Farm Restaurant & Tavern in Westport and Christian’s Catering.
While awaiting the arrival of bed skirts, “we’re definitely opening today,” said Lafrance, who pointed out everything from the hotel’s fitness room and pool area to its business center — a computer-equipped nook a short distance from a small conference room.
More meeting space will be available in coming months, probably by September, when the renovation of the Baker-Robinson whale oil works to a function and conference center is finished.
Whether they are corporate bigwigs or just couples looking to get away, lodgers of the 106-room inn will find modern decor: rooms with crisp, white linens, black-and-white tiled bathrooms, and splashes of deep blues, vivid greens and bright shades of orange. The hotel’s breakfast room stays on the palette while displaying seashells, a knotted monkey’s fist and nautical artwork.
“I thought it was great,” said Mayor Scott W. Lang, who recently toured the building. Whether you are in a room facing the harbor or the city, “the views are fantastic,” he said. The hotel will make New Bedford into more of a destination, as opposed to a place people simply pass through, according to Lang.
“It’s not only great for tourism, it’s great for businesses, conferences,” he said. “It changes the dynamic for the city in a very positive way.”
Matthew Morrissey, executive director of the New Bedford Economic Development Council, similarly hailed the development as a boon to the city.
“Based on the level of finish and the look of the place, we’re already booking some … major companies in the region to do corporate retreats here,” he said, describing how the council has brought CEOs through the building for tours. “Universally, everyone is impressed with the Lafrance family’s work.”
Morrissey also called the hotel critical to the city’s hosting of the upcoming Commercial Marine Expo on June 9 and 10 at State Pier. The event is sold out, would not have come to New Bedford without the inn, and “will result in over a million dollars of economic impact to the city,” he said.
Thursday’s opening, which Lafrance and staff celebrated with a group picture, follows a roughly 10-month construction period, courtesy of general contractor Bufftree Building Co. of New Bedford, with planning and construction overseen by Lafrance’s facilities director Sean Lafrance.
Rescom Architectural Inc. of Bourne did the architecture and Bristol County Savings Bank provided financing, according to Richard Lafrance, who said the completed project will carry a price tag of $13 million to $14 million.
The staff is generally local, with most of the hotel’s approximately 30 employees coming from New Bedford, Lafrance said.
But why build here?
In addition to the family’s longtime business connections with New Bedford and the fact that the Lafrances are local residents, he said, “Maybe selfishly, we wanted to be the ones that could bring something special to New Bedford.”
He chose to celebrate the event on a special day.
“My father would have been 90 today,” he said of the late Aime Lafrance. “Three months ago, I circled May 27th on the calendar. … This was a dream date to open.”
The Lafrances plan a ribbon-cutting ceremony in June.
May 28, 2010 12:00 AM
OUR VIEW: (SouthCoastToday)
Here’s to hospitality
New Bedford’s last major hotel — closed in 1969 — was a creature of its time, set adjacent to a thriving business district in the era before the shopping mall became king. On May 27, the first new hotel in 40 years opened near the city’s downtown.
We commend the owners, the Westport-based Lafrance family, for their commitment to a project others might have declined. Hopefully their investment in bringing prosperity back to New Bedford will pay off.
The New Bedford Fairfield Inn & Suites opens in a vastly different world than the old New Bedford Hotel. The downtown department stores are gone, but the UMass Dartmouth arts school has moved in. The restaurant scene has grown lively again. New attractions have joined the Whaling Museum and Whaling National Historical Park to help bring tourists to the city.
Meanwhile, New Bedford’s seafood industries remain a significant economic force for the city. Located adjacent to the waterfront, the hotel was a critical factor in recruiting the Commercial Marine Expo planned for June 9 and 10 at State Pier.
We are glad to see this early sign that the new hotel will serve business needs as well as tourists, for New Bedford’s future depends on a good balance of the two. Its authenticity is a big part of its strength. New Bedford should never become a theme park mimicking itself.
Rather, the new hotel places guests right in the thick of the best of New Bedford, close to piers packed with commercial fishing boats yet in sight of the Whaling Museum and the cobblestoned historic district.
The biggest challenge for the hotel may be to market its uniqueness. Its page on the Marriott Web site says the harbor-view rooms offer “breathtaking views of Cape Cod and the Islands.” Distant views, perhaps. But what about the close-up view of fascinating New Bedford Harbor, the nation’s top-grossing fishing port?
New Bedford has much to recommend it. The city may have faded in the late 20th century, but it has passed through that troubled period and begun to emerge anew. A new hotel affirms the city’s success and will be a catalyst for more.
Promoters of tourism both public and private — the national park, museums and more — would do well to work with the hotel on joint marketing strategies that sell the city as well as its lodging.
We warmly welcome the new hotel and appreciate the efforts of everyone who made it happen.
June 2, 2010
After quiet opening, city hotel looks to have loud impact