The Westport Inn has always been a weird part of Westport.
Built as a motel in the early 1960s to serve travelers on nearby I-95, it morphed into a slightly more upscale place — though hardly an “inn” — in recent years.
It was a place for guests to go when we didn’t want them in our homes, and where high school reunion-goers stayed. But there we never thought about the ballroom for banquets. We did not patronize its succession of restaurants, which opened and closed in dizzying fashion. It was in Westport, but it was never really of it.
If a longtime Westporter has his way, all that may change.
Jim Randel has practiced law here for 40 years. He’s also president of Rand Real Estate Services, which invests in underutilized properties in Connecticut and Florida.
His initial venture was the abandoned Factory Store by the East Norwalk train station. He turned it into the Factory Outlet Center, the first such urban development in the US. Rand real estate has done 40 or so projects since.
The 117-room Westport Inn is one of those properties.
Its most recent owner was Bridgewater. When Randel asked the hedge fund’s facilities manager if they’d sell, the answer was yes. The deal closed last November.
He’s now the lead partner in WI Associates. The other investors are also Westport residents. They were not sure what they’d do with the 3.8-acre property. But it’s a great location, and they knew they could be both creative and constructive with it.
After conversations with hospitality and housing experts, and neighbors, they had an idea. It’s not yet complete. But the outline is intriguing.
Working with the Greenwich Hospitality Group — owners of the Delamar hotels in Southport and Greenwich, and operators now of the Inn at Longshore and La Plage restaurant — they plan to take down the original, front building.
The 42 rooms in the rear building — built 25 or so years ago — would be upgraded. The ballroom would become a restaurant and conference areas. There would be outdoor seating and gardens. But 1 1/2 acres behind — a dedicated conservation area — would not be touched.
In addition, 16 to 18 units would be built, nearest the Willows Pediatric building. They would be unlike anything in Fairfield County: “condo-tels,” or condos with access to all hotel services, including concierge, housekeeping, room service, security, and the pool and fitness center.
At 1,700 to 1,900 square feet, Randel says they would appeal to empty nesters, Florida snowbirds, and people their older parents living nearby, among others.
To help meet Connecticut’s 8-30g housing regulation, the developers are targeting 20% of the condo units as “affordable.” They’ll do that by building 3 or 4 of them off-site. They’re looking at several potential options.
All of this is subject to zoning approval.
It’s also not a slam dunk economically. As Randel notes, COVID has rocked the hotel industry. But, he says, “if we provide quality hospitality, housing and a restaurant — at prices comparable to the Delamar, which has been successful even during the pandemic — we are very optimistic.”
The next step, says engineer Rick Redniss, is filing a text change application with Westport’s Planning & Zoning Commission, and conversations with neighbors.