Coming Soon: The Harbor Hotel

The first thing I asked David Hart, owner of the new Chautauqua Harbor Hotel in Celoron, is when they are opening their doors.

He laughed and said “That’s the $64,000 dollar question!”

But the truth is they’re keeping their fingers crossed for the end of July. Great fall weather allowed them to get the roof up so they could work on the interior through the cold months, but an extended spring prevented them from getting the landscaping done as soon as they’d hoped.

“We still have a lot of work to do inside and outside,” Hart said. “We won the battle inside in the fall, but lost the battle outside in the spring.”

Having talked to Hart a few times since the project started, I have to say, I really admire the way he does business. He’s the kind of friendly, open company owner who always takes your phone calls and seems to genuinely care about the communities he builds in.

“We’re not a castle with a moat,” he said of the Celoron hotel. “We’re in the hospitality business. We’re in the entertainment business. We want people in the community to feel welcome, to feel as if this isn’t our hotel, but their hotel.”

And is if to drive that point home, Hart’s company is going to put in a new full-sized basketball court at the park in Celoron as a gift to the community, which will replace an older court and should be completed sometime in June. The new court will compliment other improvements being made to the park with the help of money from a state grant, which includes new bathrooms.

I asked Hart what kind of impact the hotel might have on the village.

“I’m hoping folks will see an opportunity to sprout up a little complimentary business — a sandwich shop, a store or a coffee shop, a bookstore…something that compliments what we’re doing. We’re probably going to host 50,000 to 60,000 guests per year. And we want our guests out in the community, exploring around, taking advantage of the various things there are to do in the region.”

I asked Hart what he’s most excited about when he walks around the grounds now.

“Before we bought the property from the bank, I walked around the grounds. It was a web of overgrown shrubbery and big trees-it was hard to walk through. Now to all the sudden see eight weeks before opening this magnificent hotel that’s going to serve the lodging, entertainment and food and beverage needs of thousands of people every year … it’s one of the reasons I love my work. To create something special out of almost nothing.”

Hart says they worked hard to make sure the hotel complimented the shoreline, setting the property back enough to create a new boardwalk. They restored the concrete foundations that were around the lake, and they took advantage of the great views, especially the view west, where the property is slightly angled toward the sunset.

The lakeside bar is sure to become a popular afternoon destination during the summer months, and Hart says they want to create a welcoming environment for the folks who aren’t guests of the hotel.

“We want local folks to come over and sit by the lakeside, enjoy the views, have a drink and something to eat on the patio,” Hart said. “I think we’re going to fulfill a need for accommodations, event spaces and food and beverage along the lakefront that frankly is not being fulfilled, especially in the southeastern corner of Chautauqua Lake.”

As much as people are mourning the loss of Bemus Bay Pops for the summer, there seems to be enough going on to keep everyone happy.

The new Group Ther-Happy pizza place in the Village of Lakewood is accessible by boat and promises to be a popular place to meet friends for a drink or a meal. Weekend bands at the establishment will help fill in the gap for those who enjoy live entertainment. They’ll have patio space this summer and hope to offer a covered patio in the future.

What’s true is that a whole new generation of young people will build new memories around the lake with new places to enjoy the summer. My grandkids won’t remember a time when the Harbor Hotel wasn’t there or when the village didn’t have a pizza place.

I try to explain to them that there was a time when the only way to get across the lake was to drive around it or take the ferry.

It’s a good story, but boy, it makes me feel old.

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