Upstate Motels Make a Comeback, With an Purpose to Captivate

Upstate Motels Make a Comeback, With an Aim to Captivate

Dana Bowen and her husband Lindsay Bowen, both 49, originally wanted to buy a spacious outpost outside New York City that could also serve as a vacation home. The couple owns an apartment in Brooklyn and a small house in the quaint village of Athens, Greene County, and regularly scoured the Catskill and Hudson Valley real estate listings looking for "the one" – something big enough to house and rent out to family and friends Rest of the time.

But they didn't want to be innkeepers. Bed-and-breakfasts felt too cumbersome, and nothing quite lived up to their expectations: a place with an atmosphere or infrastructure that felt special, with large private guest rooms and bathrooms, and enough space for larger groups.

Like the rest of the world, social distancing wasn't on their radar until the arrival of Covid-19 when suddenly pandemic-induced guidelines for human interaction became sobering edicts of a new reality. The Bowens got these protocols to consider buying an upstate motel instead. You weren't alone.

Past roadside motels and bungalow colonies that have been hiding across the region are getting a second chance to become tourist destinations. Now these rental properties are predestined for visitors who yearn for a chance to get in touch with strangers, but in moderation.

Single rooms can be booked as well as entire bungalows. Or even an entire property, if that's what you want. Most importantly, there is a new level of prudent service for travelers looking for more than just a weekend in the country. And for those looking to get into the local game of hospitality, several of these motels – old and revitalized – are on the market waiting for new stewards.

At the Starlite Motel in Kerhonkson, Ulster County, co-owners Alix Umen, 57, and Adriana Farmiga, 47, wanted to bring art, culture and a new touch of hospitality to the motel format.

“We are very community minded,” said Ms. Farmiga. "This is something that has been specifically designed to value and nurture a creative community of artists, manufacturers, farmers, chefs and musicians." For guests, this means happenings of all kinds. It could be a D.J. Spinning or a swimmer team entertaining guests with a synchronized ballet. And on Friday evening even the neighbors come for hot vegan delicacies from a food truck that also runs a bodega on site during the week.

Going forward, the Starlite plans to offer gathering sessions for edible mushrooms and plants that are abundant in the area, as well as essential oil formulation workshops and even opera performances from a balcony on the second floor. Guests can also expect to see art in the outdoor spaces.

The business partners bought the property, built around 1958, in 2018 for $ 300,000 and spent about half a million US dollars on renovations. "It was a real time capsule," said Ms. Farmiga, who grew up part of the Catskills and works as a visual artist and assistant dean at the Cooper Union School of Art. "The curtains matched the wallpaper, which also matched the bedspreads in the rooms," she said. The original sign remained, as did the vintage blue on the doors that go with the retro key fobs. The outside received a facelift in a pale pink shade.

“It's somewhere between the Wes Anderson Venn aesthetic, Palm Springs and the Caribbean. I also imagined that this color palette could survive the seasons here, ”said Ms. Farmiga.

The Starlite had a tentative opening in December 2019 and was accepting reservations two weeks before the Covid lockdown. But the motel held out. This summer all 16 rooms are fully booked and you can expect a full autumn and winter season. Currently, weekend rates are between $ 250 and $ 299 per night with a two-night minimum stay.

In the early to mid-20th century, resorts covered the region for crowds of city dwellers looking for a sociable summer in the hinterland. Many of these catskill destinations in the so-called “borscht belt” were in the business of exuberance. Properties with hundreds of acres. Dining rooms with seating for thousands of people. Endless entertainment with stand-up comedians, tour bands, and nights of food and dancing.

Those roadside stops were more modest and now fill a void, said Lisa Berger, Ulster County's director of tourism and film. Motels, a mixture of the words "motor" and "hotel," first appeared in California in the 1920s as a place for motorists looking for an efficient car-to-bed arrangement, an idea that is experiencing a resurgence .

Motels are not so well known to younger generations because traveling by car changed forever when domestic air travel became more popular in the 1960s. But today, outward-facing rooms and not shared corridors are optimal in a pandemic world.

"Then there is the whole nostalgic factor," said Ms. Berger. There are also influences from pop culture films and television shows like "Schitt & # 39; s Creek," the award-winning cult-follower sitcom that featured a humble motel as its signature architectural style. Motel Makeover, a new reality show about remodeling a rundown property, is now streamed on Netflix.

In late June, the Terrace Motel in Ellenville was sold for $ 550.00 to two couples – Victoria and Anthony Nelson, 32 and 28 years old, and Jemma and Mitch Allen, both 34 – who intend to own the dated complex on a budget of . revive $ 1 million to $ 2 million.

The motel originally had 44 rooms. It had seen some renovations over the decades, including a major renovation in 1971, but in its founding years, the mid-century style building featured an Olympic-size swimming pool, an on-site restaurant, and a cocktail bar called the Terrace Room, which is home to many locals toast their first legal drinks.

If all goes according to plan, the eight acres in Ulster County motel is slated to open next summer with 20 rooms, a pool club, outdoor events, and possibly a spa and sauna. They plan to add an indoor function room and restaurant by 2023.

When they started work this summer, the owners took down fully furnished rooms that had bedspreads, lights, televisions, and even Bibles. They invited social media followers to a weekend yard sale at the motel. More than 500 people came.

"We wanted to show as much respect for his story as possible and give the community a chance to own a piece of the patio," said Nelson. In fact, some die-hard pickers took up to five hours to attend and even the vintage curtains were sold. But not everything was given up. Existing motel signs and a telephone booth will be restored, the old reception and bar as well as several lighting fixtures will be refurbished.

Although the redesign is just beginning, future guests are not waiting to express their interest in having the festivities blocked. "We are shocked at how many requests we have received to book weddings," said Ms. Allen.

Some owners are seizing this moment to sell and move on, ready to open new chapters outside of the motel business.

Kate & # 39; s Lazy Meadow, which has 10 cabins on 6.5 acres in Mount Tremper, Ulster County and has been owned and operated since 2004 by singer Kate Pierson of the B-52 and artist Monica Coleman, has just opened for 2 , Sold $ 25 million.

The interior of the cabins looks like something from the past: an abundance of colors, retro-inspired furniture and 1950s-style kitchens.

Forty miles south in Sullivan County is Glen Wilde, a 1940s colony of eight renovated one- and two-bedroom seasonal bungalows on 11 acres that now retail for $ 850,000. The Mountain Dale property has 17 units – nine unrenovated units have been gutted and require T.L.C. – as well as a newly renovated stone house with four bedrooms. The converted apartments each have a fully equipped kitchen and bathroom.

The design of Norsdale, a chic four-room mini-motel in the hamlet of Ulster County in Phenicia, moves away from the typical neutral rustic cottage aesthetic in favor of bold hues that follow the CMYK (cyan, magenta, yellow and key or black). Color model, standard in printing.

“Why does a motel need a cabin atmosphere? We decided to create something super magical and unique, ”said Jove Meyer, 36, a co-owner, event planner and interior designer from Brooklyn.

The property, which includes a five-bedroom home and 10 acres, is for sale for $ 1.495 million. Mr. Meyer and two other co-owners bought the building in 2017 and have modernized the property in recent years. The first guests came to the stone house last summer, and the motel welcomed guests from June this year.

Now, Mr. Meyer and the others are following their hearts and careers out of the catskills. "We loved the process of doing this together and it deserves someone full-time who loves it as much as we do," he said. Both Glen Wilde and Norsdale have been listed by the Upstate Real Estate team at Keller Williams Realty Hudson Valley North.

In Cairo, N.Y., the Lantern Motel is on the market for $ 299,000, which includes a 14-room motel, three cottages, a single-family home, and 13 acres of land – but it takes some work.

The huts must be demolished, the septic tank replaced and the land cleared. "It's been empty since the late 1990s," said Arlena Armstrong-Petock, Realtor at Country House Realty. The Lantern is located in Greene County and unlike the motels in the south, it's hardly competitive. "There's really no such thing in this area," said Ms. Armstrong-Petock.

In February 2021, the Bowens found and bought their dream 10 room hotel in Hillsdale, Columbia County. The 1963 property was called Silvanus Lodge, a working motel that has been in the market for the past two years.

"At Covid, we thought about how great it is to have rooms with separate doors to the pool," said Ms. Bowen, food editor, author and co-founder of the Dynamite Shop, an online cooking school for children. They could invite friends and family and "everyone could be outside or in the lobby when things get better and then retire to their rooms". And they could rent it out if they weren't using the space themselves, because "it was small enough to be feasible, especially when we weren't renting out room by room."

There were no drastic overhauls, just cosmetic updates and a new name: The Sylvan Motor Lodge.

The outdoor spaces have seen the greatest transformation. A covered BBQ area has been converted into a kitchen and new gravel and picnic tables have been added to create an outdoor dining area. Most of the vintage pool furniture comes from old resorts in the Catskills.

The guests arrived in July. Pricing is $ 1,750 (plus tax) per night for use of the entire property, including all 10 rooms and 16 beds, with discounts for longer stays. (The Bowens manage the lodge from their home in Athens.) "While it's great for family reunions and weekends with friends, we thought it would also be the right size for creative and nonprofit communities to work on projects together," said Bowen.

There is a master plan in place to offer curated experiences at Sylvan Motor Lodge in the future. "Part of it was always about programming," added Mr. Bowen, a podcasting manager and co-founder of 24 Hour Plays. For now, they direct visitors to day trips by bike or kayak, or help get teachers for everything from yoga and cooking to spoon carving, pickling and foraging. They even know the best barn dances in the county to get your heels off.

Soon they will be painting the new name on the brick tower where the sign used to be. "I love seeing everyone reinvent these classic motels in different, very personal, and unique ways," said Bowen. "The more motel conversions, the better."

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