By Press | Tuesday April 18, 2023
Alan Weissman, left, and Tom Dee discuss the development plans for the former Southern Vermont College at an event on the campus on Tuesday. Photo by Isabel Wissner/VTDigger
Originally Published: By Tiffany Tan Mar 17 2023 / VTDigger
BENNINGTON — A New York real estate firm intends to convert the former Southern Vermont College campus into a luxury resort, once the property’s sale from a local health care group is finalized.
The resort would feature 130 hotel rooms, a high-end restaurant, a spa and an event venue, said Alan Weissman, CEO of Alfred Weissman Real Estate, which is in the process of buying the former college campus from Southwestern Vermont Health Care.
“Our goal here is to improve the overall economy in the community, restore a prized property here in Bennington,” Weissman said in an interview Tuesday morning, after his firm, which is based in Harrison, New York, formally announced its plans at a gathering on the campus’s Everett Mansion.
He declined to reveal the purchase price for the 366-acre property, which encompasses the former student dormitories, a gymnasium and a soccer field. Also included is the early 20th century mansion, constructed in the English-Norman style and listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The Everett Mansion at the former Southern Vermont College campus. Photo by Isabel Wissner/VTDigger
The planned resort, rated four or five stars, would be a three-season destination in New England, Weissman told about 35 people who attended the announcement.
Weissman said he hopes to begin construction in a year and to welcome guests by late 2025. He said some high-end hotel chains are interested in partnering with his firm, but those discussions are still in preliminary stages.
He expects the resort to hire up to 150 workers and to buy its food supplies locally. He said one of the two architects on the project is Centerline Architects and Planners, a Bennington firm.
“There's all sorts of jobs that are created in the hotel world,” he said. “I think a lot of our guests will be visiting downtown, shopping in your stores, eating in your restaurants, that kind of thing.”
Bennington officials said they hope the resort project will boost the town’s revitalization efforts, following on the heels of the multimillion-dollar Putnam Block construction project in the center of town and the opening of the first downtown grocery store in decades.
Bennington Town Manager Stuart Hurd speaks during the event at the Everett Mansion on Tuesday. Photo by Isabel Wissner/VVTDigger
“It’s something that we’ve probably all been dreaming about since the health care system acquired the property,” Bennington Town Manager Stuart Hurd said at the event. “This property is very important to the community and could have gone south.”
Southwestern Vermont Health Care, which operates the hospital in Bennington that is across the street from the former college, acquired the property for $4.65 million at a U.S. Bankruptcy Court auction in December 2020. Southern Vermont College closed in the spring of 2019 after financial pressures cost the school its accreditation.
The health care group, which used portions of the campus for Covid-19 testing and vaccination, has decided to keep a part of the 371-acre campus: 5 acres of baseball field.
“We knew we'd have a need for some future growth,” Tom Dee, president and CEO of Southwestern Vermont Health Care, said in an interview. “We also wanted to kind of maintain our involvement in the whole development of this property, so that gives us a chance.”
The Everett Mansion is the centerpiece of the former Southern Vermont College campus. Photo by Isabel Wissner/VTDigger
He said the health care group is still figuring out what to do with its campus land, including whether that’s a good location for a new child care facility that has received federal funding.
Dee said the decision to sell most of the campus to Weissman’s firm was informed by a survey, in which 70% of 1,200 respondents indicated a desire to see the former college turned into a hospitality venue.
The New York real estate firm would partner with the Preservation Trust of Vermont to preserve the mansion and with the Bennington Area Trail System to keep the onsite trail system open to the public.
Alfred Weissman Real Estate, which has been developing commercial property for more than 50 years, has done a lot of its work in New York. Its website profile says the firm typically tackles projects that are too small for large investors, and too big for small, independent investors.
About 35 people attended the event at the Everett Mansion on Tuesday Photo by Isabel Wissner/VTDigger