The Hotel Lakeside not only represents the historical foundations of Lakeside Chautauqua itself, but, along with the Fountain Inn, is the primary source of short-term accommodations on the grounds, not only during the summer but also in the shoulder seasons of spring and fall.
Nearly three years ago, the Lakeside Board of Directors charged a taskforce, now a standing committee of both Board and non-Board members, with studying hotel accommodations at Lakeside and developing a plan for the preservation of the historic structures, improving the guest experience and operating finances of the hotels, and securing the long-term viability of these key Lakeside facilities.
Early last summer, the committee brought an initial proposal for the Hotel Lakeside and Fountain Inn to the Board of Directors. The Board took no action on the proposal, but -- though the proposal was still in the development stage and subject to the Board’s review -- the Board decided to share the draft’s outlines with the Lakeside Chautauqua community. Because summer is the time when most Lakesiders are on the grounds, this seemed a valuable way to assure transparency, even though the Board was not ready to take action on the report.
The public presentations of the Accommodation Committee’s work elicited many responses. Nearly all responses acknowledged the value of the hotels to Lakeside and were encouraging of restoration. Many folks raised important questions about the scope of the proposal for the Hotel Lakeside in particular, wondering whether a possible new addition of both guestrooms and meeting spaces could be afforded and whether optimistic projections for hotel occupancy during the late fall and early spring months could be achieved. The Board itself had many of these same questions.
Late in the summer, the Accommodations Committee resumed its work. Armed with additional intelligence from professionals in the hotel industry and with both community and Board questions, the committee began to refine its proposal.
At the November meeting of the Lakeside Board of Directors, the committee shared the direction that it is now taking. The Board took no action on the report, which is still in development. The Board, however, thinks it is important to share the current direction of the committee with the larger Lakeside community.
Based upon further due diligence with industry professionals and input from the community, the Accommodations Committee is now pursuing the option of a historically-sensitive restoration of the Hotel Lakeside in its current footprint.
While the historical character of the exterior would be restored, the interior would see a reconfiguration of guestrooms (to make larger bedrooms, as well as private bathrooms available throughout the hotel) and the rebuilding of electrical, plumbing and HVAC systems.
Historic public and dining spaces would also undergo restoration. Because there would not be a significant increase in gathering spaces, the plan would forego the Committee’s earlier hopes that expanded group sales business would help defray restoration/expansion and operating costs.
The new financial model for the hotel would rely upon a better occupancy/rate structure during the summer season and the attractive fall and spring shoulder periods. In short, the goal would be to take advantage of the unique character of the Hotel Lakeside, which is not duplicated anywhere on the Lake Erie shore.
To obtain more accurate numbers on what a restoration would cost and determine how such a project could be phased in, the Accommodations Committee is meeting with restoration contractors who can thoroughly analyze the Hotel Lakeside’s structure.
The Lakeside Board of Directors will not advance a project without these detailed costs, as well as a reasonable plan for paying for it.
The Board believes that restoration of the existing Hotel Lakeside is of such interest to so many Lakesiders that it is a prime candidate for the philanthropy of the Lakeside community. We also believe a hotel restoration only option would still position us to take full advantage of historic preservation tax credits to help finance this project.
The Lakeside Chautauqua Board of Directors also continues to make investments in the Fountain Inn and is studying how this hotel, too, could be made more attractive and functional.
Improvements to the Fountain Inn made last winter paid off in a higher occupancy rate in the 2014 summer, and we believe that there is opportunity for increased utilization of this facility with additional improvements of guestrooms and public spaces. The Accommodations Committee and staff are working together to address the long-term needs of this property and to further enhance the guest experience and program spaces.
We can all be grateful for the thoughtful work of the Accommodations Committee and its chairperson, Randy Snow. The committee continues to check and recheck its assumptions and calculations, while listening carefully to the input of the wide and diverse community of Lakesiders.
Dale T. Knobel
Chair, Lakeside Board of Directors
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