On the Road Again
Tourists offers travelers food, lodging, and natural surroundings
Six of the partners behind Tourists hang out with the original sign. Standing, from left: Eric Kerns, Cortney Burns, Ben Svenson, John Stirratt; seated, from left: Bigs Waterman, and Scott Stedman
Photo by Jake Borden
Wilco bassist John Stirratt’s nearly 30 years as a traveling musician meant spending the night in at least 80 hotels a year. So, he had some ideas on the subject, and one was to open a small 15-room hotel. But what evolved was even better—the adventure of diving into Berkshire history and helping to redefine the region’s tourism by hearkening back to the motor-tourism days of the Mohawk Trail.
Stirratt and seven partners in Beyond Place, LLC, have started rolling out Tourists, a planned 48-room destination with 55 acres that include woodland and access to the Hoosic River, a mile of which runs through the property. Over the next two years, the property will grow to include an outdoor performance space, spa facilities, and more than one restaurant from Chef Cortney Burns, a partner in the venture.
Beyond Place has drawn inspiration from the Bunkhouse Group hotels in Austin, Texas, particularly the Hotel Saint Ophelia, which partner Ben Svenson calls “the coolest hotel in the world” and whose GM, Lisa Reile, along with Bunkhouse architects Lake Flato, are helping Stirratt and team bring Tourists together.
The Tourists name comes from a sign found in the white farmhouse next door to the hotel. The oldest structure in North Adams, it was built in 1813, originally home to two brothers who made bricks onsite. From 1944 to some point in the 1980s, it operated as the Airport Rooms and Tourist Home by Virginia Stevens. One of many private homes on the Mohawk Trail during its motor-tourism heyday that provided hospitality to motorists, it could be spotted by a sign that read simply, “Tourists.”
“People picture the fat guy in the dark socks and sandals, with the camera and the Hawaiian shirt, but it’s a beautiful word. It’s this idea of adventure and tourism,” partner and project manager Eric Kerns says about the Tourists name.
The property’s known history goes back to its early years as a Native American trade route, through its farming era, including the particulars of the Blackinton section of the property on the north side of the river, generally considered one of the best-preserved mill villages in New England. Stirrat and the team want to make sure that history is conveyed to their guests.
Stirratt first met partner Scott Stedman at a food festival in Chicago. After talking, Stedman convinced Stirratt that he needed to meet Svenson, his cousin and Boston-based real-estate developer. Svenson also is a former musician, and he and Stirratt hit it off. Stirratt describes it as a whirlwind from there, which led to the idea of opening a hotel together.
Svenson reached out to several local luminaries, including Mayor Dick Alcombright, and began hunting for locations. “I spent a lot of time walking around and driving around, just to understand the landscape of the place,” says Svenson, “and from doing that, I only fell more in love with the environment and the ecology and the people of North Adams.”
Svenson went on Trip Advisor to do research one evening, expecting to see two hotels listed in North Adams. He was surprised to see a third—the Redwood Motel. The first review on Trip Advisor reads, “Not fit for human consumption.” Svenson was intrigued—even a bit excited. It was wintertime, but that didn’t stop him from investigating the motel in the snow. He went around back and down a 12-foot drop into a flood plain that made him lose all sense of being next to any civilization.
“That was the ‘Aha!’ moment,” he says. “Whoa, this is a special place.”
“I’m kind of in every city in the world every three years with the band, and you can do a lot of cultural scouting that way,” Stirratt says. “So I’ve been able to take what I like and don’t like into the design side of the hotel, and the staffing and other aspects.“
New buildings have been constructed from the original Redwood Motel foundation of the early 1960s, extending the room size by four feet and offering windows and decks for the scenic views in back. There are no windows in the front of the hotel for acoustic and aesthetic reasons.
A creative solution to preserve what will be the lodge building, a ranch-style structure in front of the property, is to wrap a steel encasement around the original so the hybrid building looks brand new from the outside, but the inside retains the flavor of the building’s original interior. It should be finished by the end of the year.
Before that, the rooms are expected to be completed in August, and guests will follow on a limited basis. A 220-foot-long suspension bridge over the Hoosic will give visitors access to the wilderness on the north side of the river, as well as the sound-art sculptures from New Orleans Airlift placed there. This summer, the white farmhouse has been turned into a welcome center to allow the curious to visit as the team ponders its future use.