Changes at Colonial Inn: Not a Timeshare, Nor Condo, but Ultimate Vacation Residence

By CHRIS BURRELL

Something really big and different is about to happen at the Colonial Inn in Edgartown, but so far, the people who know what it is - the hotel's primary owner and a Tisbury real estate outfit involved in the deal - are keeping their lips locked.

They won't say a word until tomorrow and then again Thursday at cocktail parties in the Daniel Fisher House in downtown Edgartown. Party invitations read like a movie trailer voice-over script, enticing guests to the "grand unveiling," where they will "experience the ultimate," so "come see what it's all about."

But amidst the marketing hype and contrived suspense, at least a couple things are certain. First, the old Colonial Inn name is about to be ditched for a new one, the Edgartown Residence Club.

Second, when the Colonial Inn went in front of the Martha's Vineyard Commission (MVC) last April to run some proposed changes by commissioners, all they told the MVC was that they were reducing the number of rooms at the inn in order to expand some of them into suites.

The renovation would replace 15 hotel units with six suites, commissioners were told. They were also told that marketing surveys concluded guests would stay longer periods of time if the rooms were larger.

But members of the commission heard nothing about a new name for the 6,248 square-foot building, or any details about changes that would transform the inn into "the ultimate vacation residence."

So just what is coming remains a riddle for the next day or so.

"It is not a condo, and it is not even a timeshare. It's a new concept," Judy Federowicz, the owner of Landmarks Real Estate of Martha's Vineyard, Inc. and a partner in the new unveiling of the Edgartown Residence Club, told the Gazette yesterday.

"It's a great concept. We can't tell you more," she added.

It is understood that the latest iteration of the Colonial Inn calls for a new hybrid of condominium and time-share, allowing buyers to purchase memberships and reserve time in the residence and possibly trade time for other destinations.

The primary owner of the inn, Russell Urban, is also the principal in a real estate group with controlling stock interest in Coastal Hotel Group, which operates dozens of resorts in the United States and British Virgin Islands.

Reached on his Bermuda-based cell phone yesterday, Mr. Urban also said he wasn't talking about the plans for the Edgartown Residence Club. "We're within the B-1 zoning laws to do what we're doing," he said.

Plans for the renovations - which included the addition of an elevator - came before the Martha's Vineyard Commission in April as a development of regional impact (DRI). As a matter of course, any development that was once considered as a DRI must be referred to the commission again for any subsequent changes.

The commission decided the proposed project didn't need its approval, and sent the application back to the Edgartown zoning board of appeals, which approved the plans.

Yesterday, MVC chairman James Athearn told the Gazette he didn't recall the applicants from the Colonial Inn mentioning anything about a change of use at the inn.

"I remember the reconfiguration to larger units and longer stays," he said. "Generally, it's a favorable thing for the Island community to have people not coming or going as frequently.

"If a condo was brought up or not, and whether this is of concern, it doesn't raise any flags with me," Mr. Athearn continued.

Less than four years ago, the Colonial Inn was subject of a DRI review process at the commission when hotel owners wanted to expand from 42 to 52 rooms. The commission rejected the plan, citing concerns about adding more congestion to an area of town already clogged with cars and pedestrians in the summer months.

While the exact changes at the Colonial Inn are about to be revealed by Mr. Urban and Ms. Federowicz, it is unclear what it might signal about the Island hotel industry and whether the new concept is a reaction to economic forces that have prompted other innkeepers on the Vineyard to sell their bed and breakfasts not as businesses but as private homes. Their reasons were simple: fewer travelers, high resale values.

Given the hoopla around Mr. Urban's soon-to-be-announced project and the gold-toned invitations heralding its arrival, it's certain backers are counting on a new breed of tourist, looking for the ultimate residential experience.