OXFORD — It was not an easy decision, but the Hall family has decided to sell a portion of its 50-acre Crestholm Farm to a local developer who plans to build a hotel.
The land — directly across Route 26 from the year-old Oxford Casino — will be the site of the hotel and conference center, which developers expect to be open in about a year.
According to farm owner Suzanne Hall, it was a family decision to sell, but they’re torn about giving up the land, which she believes has been farmed by various families since the 1840s.
Hall, who has lived on the farm since 1970, does not intend to sell the white clapboard farmhouse on the property where she lives, but the landmark red barn and outbuildings likely will be leveled for new construction.
The farm’s beef operation may also end, but Hall said the family — which will continue farming its land through the current growing season — intends to continue farming on leased lands in the future, growing and selling flowers and vegetables. And, it will continue operation of its popular farm stand and ice cream shop.
Standing next to the beef barn at the farm Thursday, the Hall family announced the sale through Oxford developer Joe Casalinova. The sale, to Casalinova Development Group and GIRI Hotel Management, will provide land for construction of a four-story hotel that will feature between 80 and 120 rooms, with meeting and conference space and a family-style restaurant.
The project will be constructed in two phases, with about 80 rooms scheduled for Phase 1 and the remaining rooms and restaurant added later.
When complete, the hotel development is expected to create between 85 and 125 permanent jobs, in addition to the jobs created during development and construction, Casalinova said.
For now, the hotel project is simply called “Route 26 Corridor Hotel.” Developers said they will announce the name of the hotel flag in the coming weeks.
The 100-acre casino site across the street from Crestholm Farm is on land Hall’s father, former Oxford Selectman Evan Thurlow, sold to Black Bear Entertainment.
Waving his arm in the direction of the casino, Casalinova said, “Happy Birthday to the Oxford Casino,” in making the hotel announcement, noting the facility is intended to serve casino customers.
“We hope to be standing here next year, one year later,” to open the new hotel, Casalinova said, thanking municipal officials, investors and a dozen others at the roadside news conference who helped get the project off the ground.
Although there is not yet a firm construction timeline, Casalinova said he hoped to “be in the ground by this fall” with the hotel open for the 2014 summer season.
“The town (of Oxford) committed to bringing sewer to this area this fall,” he said. Without that commitment, he said, the project would not have been possible.
Last year, the town approved an $18.6 million sewage treatment plant and collection system to be constructed at the Welchville Dam to handle waste from the casino and other businesses expected to sprout along the Route 26 corridor.
John Williams, executive director of the Oxford Hills Chamber of Commerce, said Casalinova’s decision to site the hotel in Oxford is evidence of the strong business environment the casino has brought to the area in the past year, and he’s optimistic that environment will get stronger.
“The chamber is all about creating jobs,” he said, and the casino has been a jobs engine.
Open since June 2012 and the state's second casino, Oxford has 814 slot machines and 22 table games, and employs 420 people. It is the largest employer in the town of Oxford.
In its first six months of operation, Oxford Casino saw more than $30 million in net revenue, according to state records. The one-month total for February was $3.9 million.
In March, casino owners announced the gambling operation would be sold to the parent company of Churchill Downs Racetrack, home of the Kentucky Derby, for $160 million cash. That sale has not yet been approved by Maine’s Gambling Control Board.
None of the casino investors who make up Black Bear Entertainment are part of the Casalinova/GIRI hotel project. Last week, a casino representative said Black Bear has plans to construct a hotel on its property, but probably not for at least another year.
Casalinova declined to talk about the financial investment his company intends to make in the hotel, nor about the purchase price of the farmland where the hotel will be located.
Developers have mocked up a sample concept of the hotel, a rectangular four-story building with a central front entrance, but no architectural work has been done yet.
The first step, Casalinova said, was to purchase the property. He has negotiated a letter of intent with the Hall family to do that, although the details of the sale — including total acreage and price — had not yet been worked out.
Suzanne Hall, clutching a wad of tissues in her hand and clearly emotional about the family’s decision, said her family considers the hotel development to be “the best use of our land” and that the sale will ensure her family’s future interests.
Jim Delamater, president of Northeast Bank and chairman of the Western Maine Economic Development Council board of directors, was sympathetic to her emotion and gave her a quick hug. He called the sale and pending hotel construction “exciting” for Oxford Hills, and said the project will benefit the local economy.
Hall silently agreed, while members of her family stood nearby in support.
Glen Holmes, director of the Western Maine Economic Development Council, said the “casino across the street is what started this (hotel project)." He expects that once the hotel is open, other businesses will be drawn to this section of Route 26 to serve the more than 1 million casino visitors expected each year.
Casalinova Development and GIRI currently are building an 85-room Best Western, with restaurant, at Kittyhawk Business Park in Auburn. When the Oxford project is complete, GIRI Hotel Management will be the owner-operator.
Other GIRI properties include a Comfort Inn and the Best Western Plus Civic Center Inn in Augusta, an EconoLodge in Freeport, the Best Western Plus in Waterville, the Best Western Plus in Brunswick and hotels in Meriden, Conn., and Quincy, Mass.