Latest CampGroup News
Jul 2, 2015
Posted: 07/01/2015 06:19:11 PM EDT Updated: 07/01/2015 11:49:58 PM EDT The Cranwell Spa and Golf Resort has been sold for 18 million to two local companies that will operate under the umbrella 55 Cranwell, LLC. It's believed to be among the largest hospitality-industry ownership changes on record in Berkshire County. ) (Stephanie Zollshan — The Berkshire Eagle) LENOX — The Cranwell Spa and Golf Resort is under new ownership as of Thursday, heralding a significant expansion and upgrade of the high-profile historic property in the heart of Berkshire tourist country. The $18 million purchase includes the 105-room resort, two restaurants, a spa and the 18-hole golf course, which will be upgraded in time for next spring. CampGroup, LLC, owners of four Berkshire summer camps, and L.D. Builders, which owns the mixed-use Lenox Commons complex and four condominium clusters in the Berkshires, jointly purchased the property from the Burack family under the corporate umbrella 55 Cranwell, LLC. The transaction includes a transfer of the existing $13 million mortgage on the upscale, 380-acre independently owned, full-service resort hotel, with Berkshire Bank as lead lender and Lee Bank as a participant. It's believed to be among the largest hospitality-industry ownership changes on record in the county. CampGroup, owned by the Benerofe family, has a two-thirds stake in the purchase, while L.D. Builders, owned by David Ward and his family, holds the remainder. Mark Benerofe said his family has close personal connections to Cranwell. His parents are longtime friends of the Buracks, he said, and the resort has hosted many family celebrations and company retreats. Advertisement "We plan to elevate the already outstanding guest experience and enhance the resort's position as a destination," stated Andrew Benerofe, CampGroup chairman. His company owns Camp Winadu in Pittsfield, Mah-Kee-nac in Stockbridge, Danbee in Hinsdale and Watitoh in Becket, as well as a dozen others in the Northeast and Midwest. "We feel very connected to the Berkshires," Mark Benerofe added, "so there's a natural synergy there. " A management company, Hay Creek Hotels, will run day-to-day operations. Hay Creek owns and manages the Orchards Hotel in Williamstown and 16 other small, independent, boutique properties, mostly in the Northeast, and is expanding into the South. "Properties that are independent, special, unique are only as good as their position within the community," said Norman MacLeod, founder, president and CEO of Hay Creek. He pointed out that area residents are most likely to use the restaurants, golf course and spa — "it's through that connection with the community that the property is successful. " Carl Pratt, after four years at Cranwell and 17 years previously at Canyon Ranch, will remain as the Cranwell general manager. "I'm very excited about what Dave [Ward] and the Benerofes bring, along with Hay Creek," he said. "I think they'll be a great support in the expansion we're looking at doing. " "There's a lot of work we can do to upgrade, we can build an additional 41 rooms here," Ward said. "That's very important because when you get to the 150-room level, it makes the hotel more competitive in the group business. " Currently, 40 percent of Cranwell's guests are business groups. Cranwell's existing special permit allows for the buildout of the 41 rooms. Details such as location and design are in the planning stages, with the expansion expected in 2017. Site plan approval will be needed from the town's Zoning Board of Appeals. "The big thing is to get more people here in the wintertime," Ward said. "Groups like to have enough rooms, whether it's a wedding, or an educational group, they need to have enough rooms for their outing. " As he put it, "Cranwell is a step ahead of the brand names, the Marriotts, the Hiltons. We're not them, we have amenities that none of them have. " The resort currently employs 120 people full-time, another 30 full-time seasonally, and an additional 150 part-timers year-round. Staffing levels and details will be reviewed by the Hay Creek management company this summer, said Ward. "We're looking to grow and to enhance the experience for our guests," he stated. "The Internet has changed the industry and drives occupancy. " Trip Advisor has awarded Cranwell a five-year "Hall of Fame' certificate of excellence. Daniel and Carol Burack, family owners of the site since 1993 with their son Peter under Berkshire Cranwell Limited Partnership, LLC, said, "We came to the conclusion that it's time to move on. " Daniel Burack is 81. The family owns a townhouse home on the property, and lives primarily in Westchester County in New York. "We're builders and real estate people," Ward said. "We look at this as a great, iconic property, and one could never duplicate what Dan and Carol created here. That's what attracted me. We've been successful in the Berkshires and we were looking for other opportunities in real estate. " "They're passing the torch to us," he added. "We're the second step, we're going to take this to the modern level. " Some of the resort's large luxury rooms need improvements and updates, he said. "In a hotel like this that goes back to the 1880s, there's always repairs, always something," said Burack, noting the value of "having an operational guy [Ward] and a team of people" available to deal with problems. "It's a family resort; that's how we've run the property," he said. Citing long-serving employees, some up to 20 years, "the nicest thing that people ever say to me is 'I'm so proud I work at Cranwell. ' " "The property needs the next generation of family owners," he added. Burack said the decision to sell was made about two years ago. "The wonderful thing about Hay Creek is that they are in the business of resorts, private-name properties, not the Marriotts," said Burack. "They know their business and they're going to bring synergy to the property. " Burack, one of the four original owners of Canyon Ranch, recalled how founder Mel Zuckerman had considered purchasing Cranwell in 1983, but the owners at the time did not want to sell. Instead, the group purchased the Bellefontaine Estate in 1987 and created Canyon Ranch. By 1992, the Buracks had the chance to purchase Cranwell, which was then bank-owned and in foreclosure, he said. The purchase price was $3.2 million, considered a bargain at the time. They have emphasized a community-oriented approach, Burack said. "We were able to execute our vision in a 10- to 15-year-cycle," he commented. During that time, the property was extensively upgraded, and the $10 million spa opened in 2002. Daniel Burack acknowledged a "bittersweet" feeling now that the deal is done. "You don't often get the opportunity to execute a vision," he said. But his wife, Carol, said "We're at the age of looking forward, no looking back. " "It's time to move on," he said. "I slept well last night. It's stabilizing the property and keeping it an asset of the Berkshires. That's the proudest thing. " Contact Clarence Fanto at 413-637-2551. Cranwell timeline ... 1853: The Rev. Henry Ward Beecher purchases Blossom Hill, future site of the mansion, for $4,500, proclaiming, "From here I can see the very hills of heaven. " 1869: Gen. John F. Rathbone buys the property from Harriett Beecher Stowe ("Uncle Tom's Cabin"), sister of the reverend, who had inherited it upon his death. Rathbone moves the existing farmhouse to the side of the hill and builds the sizable Wyndhurst mansion. 1897: Three years after building a cottage on the property, John Sloane tears down Rathbone's mansion and Beecher's farmhouse to build a new Tudor-style Wyndhurst, with grounds designed by Frederick Law Olmstead, famed landscape architect. 1925: After a sale to Florida developers, the site becomes the Berkshire Hunt and Country Club. 1930: Wyndhurst is purchased by Edward Cranwell for private use. 1939: Society of Jesus of New England, a Jesuit order, acquires the site and operates the Cranwell Preparatory School, an academy for boys. 1975: The school closes after years of decline but the Jesuits maintain the property for another 10 years. 1985: Developers Richard Mullen and David Roche buy Cranwell for $2 million and spend more than $24 million to create a hotel, conference center, condos and renovate the existing golf course. 1993: Daniel Burack and Earl S. Altman, with two minority partners, form the Berkshire-Cranwell partnership to buy the 380-acre property for $2.33 million (from a consortium of banks that had purchased it after the condo market crashed) and expand it into a luxury resort and golf club, adding a series of private "golf homes" on the property. 2002: Cranwell opens a $9 million, 35,000-square-foot spa with a swimming pool and multiple services, the high point of a nearly $25 million renovation of the resort. 2010: A devastating Dec. 22 fire destroys the 1890s Carriage House, which is rebuilt and reopened in July 2012. 2015: The 105-room resort, town homes, spa and 18-hole golf course is sold by Daniel Burack and his family for $18 million to CampGroup, LLC and LB Builders on July 1.