Ready For Tourists

Chautauqua Harbor Opens Thursday

The Chautauqua Harbor Hotel will open to the public Thursday. The resort is complete with 135 rooms. Many of the rooms have patios that allow guests to get an overlook of Chautauqua Lake from the Celoron location. P-J photo by Eric Zavinski

CELORON — After months of construction, the Chautauqua Harbor Hotel is ready to open as a premiere resort along Chautauqua Lake’s shore.

David Hart, CEO of Hart Hotels, said the $38 million project will be open for the public beginning Thursday with a soft open that will also feature tours for guests who want to see the various amenities Chautauqua Harbor has to offer. Anyone interested can book a room at the 10 Dunham Ave. location.

“This has been a race to the finish,” Hart said. “We’re very proud of it.”

Chautauqua Harbor is the biggest of Hart’s harbor hotels, resorts that are built and maintained along a few waterfronts in the northeast. With a total of 135 rooms, including standard living quarters, suites and master suites, the nearly finished project is meant to attract more tourists to the area. Chautauqua Harbor is the biggest of the Harbor Hotel Collection with 30 more rooms and 30,000 additional square feet compared to his similar resorts.

Hart said his design philosophy for the Harbor Hotel Collection is not to satisfy demand, but rather create it. So far, Hart said his harbor hotels — Watkins Glen Harbor Hotel in Watkins Glen, which was voted best waterfront hotel in the U.S. by USA Today in 2016, 1,000 Islands Harbor Hotel in Clayton and Portland Harbor Hotel in Portland, Maine — have invigorated their respective tourist destinations. Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul called Chautauqua Harbor a “transformational project” last year.

The interior of a standard room at the Chautauqua Harbor Hotel, which will open for business Thursday. Some rooms provide two beds while others provide one and a sofa. Master suites provide hot tubs, dual vanities and patios to view Chautauqua Lake. P-J photo by Eric Zavinski

Overall, Hart is no stranger to the hotel business, having managed the oversight of 16 resorts employing more than 900 hospitality and food service professionals and providing more than 2,000 rooms for guests. He has teamed up with The Krog Group, a construction company led by his friend Peter Krog, for Chautauqua Harbor and his other New York state harbor hotels. Hart and his team will oversee hotel operations starting in a few days while Krog and his team built every aspect of Chautauqua Harbor, so the pair will be sharing ownership 50-50.

Hart Hotels is a Buffalo-based operation privately owned by the Hart family and founded by William Hart in 1985. The Harbor Hotel Collection is known for earning AAA Four Diamond ratings, which Hart said gives management and Chautauqua Harbor employees something to shoot for. Approximately 110 full-time jobs will be supported at Chautauqua Harbor.

A full kitchen staff will serve everyone from visitors with banquet-style offerings at major events to guests at a dining room and bar. Coffee areas will be freshly prepared in lobbies on each floor next to the elevators, an area Hart said is ideal for morning routines and interacting with the other guests.

Meetings and other events will be hosted starting in mid-September. Those who want to plan anything from business trips to weddings are welcome to contact Chautauqua Harbor and set up reservations.

For any stay at Celoron’s lakeside destination, hotel amenities including a bar and dining room, lakeside bar, fitness center, indoor and outdoor pool, putting green and more are provided.

To coincide with the first year of the National Comedy Center, a small exhibit featuring some comedy-related materials and videos will be showcased near the lobby of the hotel. Hart said opening along with the NCC will help revitalize the area and continue the trend of a Southern Tier on the rise. The satellite room for the NCC at the hotel symbolizes a partnership that was exemplified by the Chautauqua Harbor Hotel sponsoring the final room in the NCC, in which visitors’ comedy levels are measured.

“Their turnstile amount is going to help us,” said Hart, who hopes hotel guests will become patrons of the NCC and visitors of the NCC will become hotel guests.

The rooms themselves will be outfitted with either two beds or one bed and a sofa for different-sized groups. One can expect patio views overlooking Celoron on one side and Chautauqua Lake on the other. Four master suites will be complete with hot tubs and living rooms with fireplaces. Room prices will vary depending on location, size and amenities offered.

While the soft opening will allow guests to stay and tour the hotel starting Thursday, the ribbon cutting will follow a week later Sept. 6 to allow politicians and press to observe the completed facility. Construction of the meeting areas and ballroom used for events will finish during the first week after the soft opening. A grand opening to celebrate Chautauqua Harbor’s completion will also be hosted Sept. 20, and is invite-only.

A 130,000 square feet hotel, Chautauqua Harbor rests atop land that used to support the Celoron Amusement Park. The island now part of the hotel grounds and befitting future wedding ceremonies and relaxation used to be a swing ride. Hart said it’s part of the local character that the hotel is so close to the Celoron Theater where Lucille Ball used to perform and the baseball grounds, where Babe Ruth once visited.

“It’s cool to have a nice historical story to tell,” Hart said. “There’s lots of history that went on just on our dirt. We’re lucky to have all these surrounding factoids we can build into our program.”

Carousel horses reminiscent of the merry-go-round that used to be in the park, along with old photographs, will be placed in the lakeside bar, earning it “The Carousel Bar” name. The bar sits on the shore behind the hotel next to the outdoor pool and putting green.

In striving to earn a AAA Four Diamond rating, Hart has ensured building amenities like a fitness center and pools and offering concierge and turn-down service will qualify them for the honor. A quality inspection will determine if Chautauqua Harbor earns the same designation its three harbor hotel predecessors have earned. Only 22 hotels in upstate New York have earned the AAA Four Diamond rating, Hart said, which includes the other two harbor hotels Hart has created with Krog. Hart said he is confident their style will earn them the rating.

Hart said he enjoys building hotels in places that “embrace the waterfront lifestyle.”

“It doesn’t matter what the body of water is,” Hart said, “but that the community itself embraces its water-based community.”

For those interested in staying at Chautauqua Harbor, reservations are being taken. Weddings and other events can be booked for late 2018 and 2019. While the resort will focus on seasonal stays, it will be open year-round.

Hart admits he’s taking a big chance but that it’ll be worth it.

“We’re hitting it at just the right time,” said Hart, who believes in a Southern Tier revival and a series of demand generators that have arisen in the county.

For such a large project, Hart Hotels applied for and received aid: an Empire State Development Western Region Capital Funds Grant for $1.653 million, a Market New York Capital Funds Grant of $255,000, a Community Development Block Award from New York State Homes and Community Renewal for $750,000 and a package of incentives from the Chautauqua County Industrial Development Agency, including waivers on mortgage tax and sales tax. A 15-year payment in lieu of taxes agreement also assisted through CCIDA will allow Chautauqua Harbor to not be taxed at the fully assessed value. The percentage taxable increases over the years, with the 16th year of operation having the hotel be fully taxable.

“We enjoy our business, and we enjoy the challenge,” Hart said.