WEST HARTFORD — Work has begun at the site of what will be the new, $30 million Delamar Hotel.
"Right now they've put up your standard fencing along the outside of it, and you've got just a couple of bulldozers in there just moving soil around," said project spokesman Steve Jewett. He said preliminary preparation and excavation began in July at the site at the corner of Memorial and Raymond roads.
"We're pleased that it's proceeding," Community Services Director Mark McGovern said. He said there were a few complaints from neighbors about construction on Saturday but, "they're allowed to work on Saturday," and "all in all, the process has gone smoothly."
Developers started with a soil cleanup because the parcel is a former public works site and was used to dump fill from Blue Back Square construction. McGovern said there was "nothing toxic" on the parcel, and "it was known to be the first step in site readiness and the site development process."
The project was delayed in the spring when a protected red-tailed hawk was found to be nesting in a tree slated for removal, McGovern said. The developer, complying with the 1918 federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act, did not begin work in an effort to leave the bird undisturbed.
But McGovern said that after observation of the nest's single chick, naturalists and the fire department removed the young bird and brought it to a wildlife rehabilitation center in Massachusetts. The bird, which appeared sickly, was cared for but died after about 10 days, McGovern said.
Work began after the nest was no longer occupied and "it's almost local lore now, with the sad tale of the hawk," Mayor Scott Slifka said. But, "it's exciting to know it's moving forward, it's reality, but I'm most looking forward to the day when I can walk inside."
Once preliminary excavation is completed, the second phase, building the foundation, will begin in the fall, Jewett said. Construction is expected to take 16 months. The restaurant Artisanal, now operating at the Delamar group's hotel in Southport, will open a second location at the Delamar West Hartford.
The hotel's location adjacent to Blue Back Square is convenient for business travelers and other visitors to Greater Hartford, officials said.
"I think it's going to be great for all of West Hartford to have a high-end boutique hotel right in the center between Blue Back Square, the West End, West Hartford Center, and Kingswood Oxford School," said Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Barbara Lerner.
Lerner said the town's only hotel, the West Hartford Inn, doesn't include many of the features the Delamar will offer.
"We get calls from a lot of people asking for places to stay that have amenities, and I have to send them out of West Hartford," Lerner said.
The Delamar's spacious meeting rooms and banquet areas are also sorely needed, Lerner said, as the Chamber of Commerce's luncheon events with around 160 attendees make for cramped quarters in existing locations.
For events like bar and bat mitzvahs, weddings and engagement parties, "this just gives you another option," Lerner said. "I don't think there's a business in town that isn't excited about it. It will provide a real boost and something different."
The project is the culmination of a plan begun in 2012, when the town sought proposals for a hotel on 4 acres of town-owned land. Plans for the six-story, 118,892-square-foot luxury hotel include 111 rooms, a 260-person ballroom, a banquet facility, a 90-seat restaurant and bar, a 70-seat outdoor dining area and a 28-seat outdoor cafe and spa.
The town has offered a lease agreement for the project with an initial term of 50 years, with four renewable terms of a decade each.
Base rent for the lease is $150,000 annually, which would increase by 2 percent each year, and the agreement also includes a purchase option. The price for the land is $3 million, which will increase by 0.17 percent each month.
Slifka said he takes the project "very personally" after leading efforts to see a hotel built on the site.
"This has been a goal of mine for a long time and I don't consider it to be finished by any means right now, but I'd say there's a great amount of pride in knowing the potential that I and the town council saw for the site actually exists," Slifka said. "We're very happy that we created an environment where that investment could be made."