Q&A: College May hold Future of Williams Inn
|The Williams Inn is expected to change hands in the near future.|
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The future of the Williams Inn may lie in the hands of Williams College.
"The college is currently in discussion with the Faulkners about purchasing the Inn," Frederick Puddester, the college's vice president for finance and administration and treasurer, said last week.
The hotel maybe closed if the college is successful in developing a boutique hotel on Spring Street.
And after almost 25 years as owners and operators of the 100-room inn, Carl and Marilyn Faulkner have announced that they plan to retire soon.
"Both Marilyn and I are in our 70s and we need to think about our future," Faulkner said.
The original Williams Inn was converted to the first women's dormitory, now known as Dodd House, upon admission of women to the college in 1974. The present Williams Inn was built the same year and acquired in 1979 by Carl Faulkner's hotel group, and run as an independent family business since 1991.
Under their ownership, the hotel became the place where townspeople celebrated weddings, anniversaries, birthdays, gathered with fellow stamp collectors, attended Mason meetings and danced on Saturday nights. Some feared the inn was in jeopardy in 2013, when it became known that Williams College was exploring the possibility of building a boutique hotel on Spring Street.
It is widely rumored that Main Street Hospitality Group, which operates the Red Lion Inn, the Porches and the new hotel proposed on North Street in Pittsfield, will take over as operators. When asked, Puddester said the college had nothing to announce about the selection of an operator and MSHG CEO Sue Eustis declined to comment.
"Another important thing to mention," said Puddester, "is how wonderful the Faulkners have been to this community over the years. Their dedication and service to Williams College and Williamstown have been remarkable."
Puddester, whose portfolio includes legal affairs and real estate, and Carl Faulkner answered questions relevant to the sale of the Williams Inn.
QUESTION: Has Williams College made any commitment to you?
FAULKNER: No sale has taken place.
QUESTION: What is the status of your relationship with the college?
FAULKNER: We have been having monthly discussions since they assisted me by acquiring our mortgage [about a year and a half ago.] The college and I have a mutual interest in seeing the inn continue and prosper.
QUESTION: Why did you chose to go public now about your plans to retire?
FAULKNER: The rumors of the past several years about the status of the Williams Inn needed to be put to rest. As many of the college employees are related to Williams employees, it was my feeling that going public would be best. We do not want nervous customers or employees. It is important that conventions and function parties know that the inn will continue on.
QUESTION: Were any of your children interested in taking over the inn when you and Marilyn retire?
FAULKNER: Our children (all in their 40s) consider the hotel business to be a "black hole." ... The only day that I stay home is on a Monday holiday like yesterday (Presidents Day) ) with no mail, no bank, no Wall Street Journal and usually no phone calls. We have traditionally been at the inn weekends, which are usually busy. The rest of the week, we have our regular groups (Rotary, bridge club, swimming pool parties, etc.) Our holidays were always celebrated at a later date. During snowstorms, we moved into the hotel to be sure that all crises were handled properly.
Yes, all our children did assist in the business from time to time, but they have their own families and lives to live. They want a different lifestyle than I chose, one where at least your weekends are your own.
QUESTION: With that said, what part of the hotel business did you find satisfying.?
FAULKNER: Your question is easy — the answer is hospitality. I paid my way through college by working and living in a hotel in Boston. I early on learned the difference between a businessman's hotel and a vacation oriented hotel, I chose to specialize in the vacation hotel. I loved the instant gratification of going to bed each night knowing whether I had made my customers happy or not.
QUESTION TO PUDDESTER: What would you say to people who are under the impression that the college already owns the Inn?
PUDDESTER: The college owns the land and recently purchased the debt from the bank (the mortgage on the Williams Inn.) I think the best way to describe it is that the Faulkners own the building and the college owns the land. And that the Faulkners pay rent to use the land.
QUESTION: Would acquiring the Williams Inn be connected in any way with the possibility of the college building a hotel on Spring Street?
PUDDESTER: The college is looking into the possibility of having a classic New England style inn on Spring Street. But it is important that the Williams Inn remain open while that option is explored.
QUESTION: Previously the term "boutique style hotel" was used to describe the building the college would possibly erect on Spring Street. Since a boutique-style hotel is defined in the industry as a hotel having more than 10 rooms but less than 100, that term does not give a clear picture of the size of such a building. Would you like to comment on that?
PUDDESTER: I completely agree that the term does not give a clear picture of what we are thinking about. I think people understand what a New England inn looks like.
QUESTION: For what purpose would the college use the Williams Inn?
PUDDESTER: Because the Williams Inn plays such a prominent role in housing guests and visitors to the college there is an interest in the continuity of the inn all year — especially on busy weekends.
QUESTION: Does the college feel that two inns could survive in such close proximity as the Williams Inn and a possible inn on Spring Street?
PUDDESTER: If we are successful with constructing a small inn on Spring Street, it would replace the current Williams Inn.
QUESTION: If the college buys the Williams Inn, would the present employees be kept on?
PUDDESTER: We will hire a new operator — the inn will not be run by college employees — to develop plans going forward. We do not see any immediate change in personnel.
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