Sunday, May 4, 2008
Imagine a big beige buildling
About eight months ago, I heard a rumor from a reliable source that a hotel chain was interested in building on the lot adjacent to the Middlesex Mutual "skyscraper" on the corners of College and Broad Streets in Middletown.
Just last evening, I heard from another source that, in fact, the Marriott Hotel chain is interested in building a Fairfield Inn on that spot. Fairfield Inns are the moderately-priced hotels, often found near airports, in corporate parks and strip malls, which feature "residential suites" for longer-term stays. They are clean and comfortable, but their exterior design leaves much to be desired.
All you need to do is browse the Fairfield Inn website to get the idea that the exterior architectural design, a kind of modern grotesque, is based on economical design and engineering factors (meaning, big and boxy steel-framed building, with plenty of room for mechanicals), with a few decorative features tacked on, and primarily beige. The hotels also usually feature dominant signage and generous surface parking lots.
Does Middletown need, or can it support another hotel? The Inn at Middletown, a hotel built with local financial support, is not often booked beyond capacity, and having another hotel (especially one with the kind of corporate support that can swamp a locally-run competitor), would likely put its future in jeopardy. My source tells me that a market study was done and concluded that Middletown could not support another hotel downtown, currently. Yet the developers have apparently not been discouraged. Obviously, anyone with the ability and the cash to invest, has the right to build a competing hotel, but city planners need to consider the effect that allowing such construction would have.
Currently, the lot is a smallish, largely unused, but in it's way, lovely green space, which takes some of the sting out of the hulking, ugly commercial heft of the Connecticut Mutual building (which, I'm told, is about two floors higher than planners let on when originally making their argument to town leaders for building the new headquarters. The two additional floors were for mechanical space that the proponents failed to make clear.)
The lot is on the border of the Village District, an area boundaried by Washington, Broad, High and Loveland Streets. The Village District is designed to keep downtown residential-friendly, and encourage home ownership withing walking distance of the core city. A large commercial building on that site would not be a welcome development for the neighborhood.
Of course, the source of the problem with this kind of development is that Middletown does not have a comprehensive plan for the central business district which entails the kind of development that is desired, and design standards for such development. This is certainly something the Charter Commission, which is currently meeting, should take up. The town also does not consider the idea of charettes, which many other local communities are using to consider controversial development.
The Middlesex Chamber of Commerce is pushing the hotel development, and that's their mission. In addition, the current economic downtown will make it difficult to argue against any development which purports to add to the tax base. Still, if one hotel is driven out of business because another is built, have we really accomplished anything for the city?