There's nothing like a deadline to keep a project rolling full steam ahead. In this case, the deadline is a mother in law's visit. The project to be finished in time for one of the Vineyard's busiest weekends is phase one of a three year, $77 million plan to restore and enhance the former Harbor View Hotel on North Water street in Edgartown.
"My mother in law is coming to stay in one of the cottages over Memorial Day weekend," explained Alan Worden, principal of Scout Real Estate Capital LLC, a Nantucket and New York city-based real estate development firm that owns the hotel.
He nodded and said no more.
Although a few kinks are still being worked out - on Tuesday afternoon, the hotel's famous broad porch was being sealed and all of the new porch furniture was temporarily stored inside - the first phase of the newly named Harbor View Hotel and Resort is nearly complete. The lobby was open for business, the smell of fresh paint hung in the air, and finishing touches were under way on landscaping and on the renovated captain's cottages out back. The entire complex was bright and buzzing with activity.
In December 2006, Scout Real Estate bought the Harbor View Hotel and Kelley House for $45.1 million. The hotel, once known as the grand dame among Vineyard hotels, originally opened in 1891. The shingle style building soon became a popular place to take in the views of the Edgartown Light, the outer harbor and Chappaquidick. Today it is the largest hotel on the Island and is home to the Coach House restaurant.
Mr. Worden said he was inspired to start Scout Real Estate in 2003 after what he dubbed The Worst Vacation Ever. He and his family were spending a week in an old part of old Florida. They walked into a hotel that had come highly recommended only to be met by artificial turf on the porch outside and a faded pink recliner in the lobby. The bedroom had foam pillows. When they asked the concierge for recommendations on what to do, they were met with a nod in a distant direction. "There's Main street," he recalled being told. After three days the family moved to another hotel.
"We had invested a whole week in this hotel and they ruined it," Mr. Worden said. From then on, he said he was determined to provide a luxurious vacation experience to consumers that matched the quality of their vacation destination. "Live the location," he quipped while sitting in one of the new plush couches in the hotel's renovated lobby.
Mr. Worden enlisted designer Linda Woodrum, known for her work on the television program Dream House and in Coastal Living magazine, and Luann Gleason, director of research and marketing for Scout. "We all got here and were mesmerized by what we saw. There was a jewel outside that was not being realized," Ms. Woodrum said.
During her first visit to the hotel, Ms. Woodrum recalled she was standing in the lobby with Mr. Worden when Mrs. Gleason reportedly shouted: "I can't take this anymore! Get me a ladder!" She then tore down the curtains that had long adorned the lobby windows, blocking the view and darkening the room. "The people at the front desk started clapping," Mrs. Gleason said. "Can you imagine working here and never being able to see what's outside?"
With added help from the New York architectural firm Hart/Howerton, the lobby has since been expanded and opened with windows that are double the size of what they once were. The walls are hung with nautically themed black and white photographs by Alison Shaw. Baskets of shells sit on antique wicker tables.
The porch now wraps around the entire building and a new rail allows for better views. The exterior of the building has been repainted white. Two of the cottages in back have been rebuilt, transforming eight rooms into four convertible one-bedroom suites, each with a private outdoor shower and garden.
The hotel has purchased 40 bicycles and by the beginning of the season, they will also have kayaks and a lobster boat available for guests to rent.
Former hotel guests provided more help for the early stage of the renovation project. Mrs. Gleason spoke directly with 150 guests that had stayed at the hotel in the past few years, and she used a consultant to survey 250 more. "People would say, ‘You're not going to change my hotel,' " she recalled. "It's a treasure of a place for the family. People don't want it changed because they want to come back." The group worked hard to ensure that they would.
The first phase of the project involved renovating 8,000 square feet in four and a half months. Mr. Worden estimated that roughly 100 workers were on the property each day since the project began. Throughout, the hotel remained in full operation. "I live on an island," said Mr. Worden, a Nantucket resident, of his decision to stay open. "I know there are limited choices."
Work on the hotel will pause beginning Memorial Day and resume in October. Next winter, planned work includes renovating the rest of the main building, the remaining cottages and building a new pool. A third phase, slated for the following winter pending permitting approval, will include demolishing the old motel - style unit that is attached to the northeast corner of the hotel and adding a new spa and fitness center.
This week Mr. Worden and his team said they had spoken with the former longtime head of housekeeping for the hotel. "She said, ‘I just feel like I'm in the nicest house in Edgartown,' " he said.
And at that point, the trio knew they had been successful. They had created a home away from home for guests and staff alike, a home a mother in law would be proud of.