MERIDEN — The owners of the MainStay Suites on East Main Street and a property management company are seeking permission to convert 124 hotel rooms into 85 apartments.
Building owner GCMS Lodging Partners LLC, and applicant CSRE are requesting a variance, site plan approval and special exception to allow the conversion in the C-2 zone.
The proposal came before the city’s Zoning Board of Appeals earlier this month but was moved to the ZBA’s September meeting because of a notice error, said City Planner Paul Dickson.
The building at 1149 E. Main St. is 16,475 square feet and sits on nearly three acres near the corner of Pomeroy Avenue. CSRE, based in Lakewood, New Jersey, has a portfolio of apartment developments in Connecticut, including the historic Packard renovation in West Hartford. CSRE also shares a mailing address with the Flats 390 apartment complex at 390 Bee St., according to city records.
CSRE is proposing 26 studio apartments, 24 one-bedroom units with 475 square feet and 35 one-bedroom units with 650 square feet. It was unclear Monday if the units are market rate or affordable. However, the company tends to “focus exclusively on multi-family properties in specific middle-to-upper class neighborhoods, investing deep ‘boots on the ground’ research in each acquisition,” according to the company’s LinkedIn profile.
Representatives from CSRE could not be reached for comment. A traffic report stated the new use would result in decreased traffic on East Main Street in the area.
The hotel conversion is the city’s third in recent years. In 2016, the InnPlace Suites on Bee Street were converted into 390 Flats. The former Baymont by Wyndam, or Four Points by Sheraton, was sold in early 2021 to a developer for conversion to apartments and a lifestyle center.
But beyond exterior painting, little work has been completed at the former Sheraton on Research Parkway. When he received ZBA approval for the project early last year, New Haven developer Adam Haston described the Silver City Commons project as an example of a new paradigm shift for the struggling hotel industry.
Built in 1985, the former Sheraton saw a steady reduction in occupancy and the loss of its restaurant. The pandemic exacerbated the downward trend of the hotel industry, which lost 69 percent of its business in 2020, said local attorney Dennis Ceneviva, who represented Haston before the ZBA.
According to the National Association of Realtors, in 2020, the hotel occupancy rate plunged to 37% as the COVID-19 pandemic severely cut leisure and business travel.
“Even as the demand for lodging recovers once normalcy returns, stiff competition from short-term rental providers will continue to challenge the viability of the lodging industry,’ the NAR stated in a recent report. “On the other hand, there is an acute undersupply of housing.”
During 2010 through 2020, housing completions for single-family and multifamily residences were behind by 6.3 million units compared to the level of housing demand, the report stated.
But as the city absorbs more housing projects in the development pipeline, officials have expressed concerns over density and rental rates.
“I have been pretty blunt about housing in general,” said Mayor Kevin Scarpati. “We need to focus our economic development efforts on developments that are outside of housing.”
Scarpati and others have said Meriden and other large cities have carried the affordable housing load for the state.
Scarpati also criticized the idea of hotel conversions, given the lack of activity at the former Four Points by Sheraton.
“When you see these types of proposals, they seemed to have stalled or slowed down,” Scarpati said. “I don’t see converting these hotels into housing as a great win for the city.”
Unlike other housing developers, CSRE did not present its proposal before the City Council’s Economic Development Housing and Zoning Committee. A pitch to city councilors is preferred, but not mandated, Scarpati said.
“It’s not a requirement, but it will be good to get council feedback and developer feedback,” Scarpati said. “There needs to be a discussion we have on the plan going forward.”
The ZBA will review more details about the plan, as well as comments from the city’s engineering and fire departments, when it meets on Sept. 6.