Anyone who has been involved in the ongoing struggle to prevent a monstrous big-box style franchise-ready motel — not unlike the one that now looms over Route 7 north of Lenox — from being dropped into the middle of a historic, residential neighborhood, will remember the spectacle of a red-faced Amstar CEO Gabe Finke lecturing and chastising the “little people” gathered inside the Stockbridge Town Hall.
Having heard Finke express Amstar’s long-term commitment to the well-being of the town and for the careful restoration of Elm Court, grandly throwing in an offer to pay for a controversial, unwanted and unnecessary sidewalk that would forever change the character of the road and the neighborhood, the curious reader might ask: where is Gabe Finke now? For that matter, where is Amstar?
Amstar Group, the real estate fund that owns the Travaasa brand, represents one part of the global real estate holdings of German billionaire industrialist Otto Happel, with a family office based in Lucerne, Switzerland. Finke once worked for Happel, but roughly a year ago the boss apparently had enough. Who knows what the distinguished Mr. Happel made of the Elm Court acquisition and the absurd plan to hatch a luxury resort in the middle of a neighborhood overwhelmingly opposed; what we do know is that Finke was shown the door in a split described in the business press as a “messy divorce”, with Amstar Advisors (Finke still at the helm) parting company with Amstar Group.
A year later, even the name is gone: Finke re-incorporating as Ascentris. We note the complete absence of any holdings in the hospitality industry in the revamped Ascentris portfolio. In any event, Finke, the man who hoodwinked a naive Stockbridge Select Board, is long gone from the Elm Court scene. So much for long-term commitments!
None of the town boards reviewing the proposal seemed at all concerned that Amstar Group lacks a track record in the hospitality industry; by industry standards the Travaasa “brand” is both too small (a mere two resorts in operation) and too young to have been adequately tested by market cycles. In any event, Amstar Group is not in the hospitality business. They are in the “cradle to grave” portfolio flipping business.
We predict that such lack of basic due diligence regarding the private partner in this high-impact and dumb-growth project will come to haunt both towns with a long list of unintended consequences. If the monstrous thing is ever built. Maybe the honorable Mr. Happel will finally have a closer look at where his money is being spent, grasp the fundamental unsustainability of the idea, and pull the plug.