Business bounces back at Comfort Inn in Pawtucket as bridge project ends

Business bounces back at Comfort Inn in Pawtucket as bridge project ends

Owners plan to start major renovations this fall

PAWTUCKET - Three years of headaches are finally coming to an end for business owners who operate near the Pawtucket River Bridge.

Pawtucket's only hotel, the Comfort Inn, is one of the businesses that has seen traffic steadily increase as the project has ambled toward its conclusion, according to General Manager Mark Poole and Sales Manager Patti McAlpine.

"Things have gotten much better," said McAlpine. "We've had a busy summer."

According to Poole, the Comfort Inn has seen an estimated jump of between 15 and 20 percent in business this summer over last. Business will only improve as the last of the heavy equipment clears out and life gets back to normal, said Poole. Owners of the attached Murphy's Law Irish Pub and other businesses in the area are experiencing a similar bump, he said.

As the bridge project crawled along, said Poole, many visitors to Rhode Island decided to skip the detours in Pawtucket and instead move on to a hotel in Providence. For many, just the sight of all the heavy equipment and detour signs was enough to chase them away, he said.

"I think it scared a lot of people away, the noise, the look," he said.

Running a hotel in the middle of a construction zone grew so difficult at one point during the bridge replacement project that it helped push the former owners, the Murphy family, to sell the property to Jamsan Hotel Properties. Now that the bridge project is done, said Poole, the new owners are almost set to move forward with extensive renovations of the hotel, which will stay open as the work proceeds. Owners are planning to start the remodel this fall as part of a transition from the Comfort Inn name to a Hampton Inn under the Hilton brand.

Changes coming to the hotel include a new boardroom, expanded breakfast area, improved exercise room, upgrades to bedrooms, and the removal of all exterior balconies to modernize the look of the hotel, among many others.

Those who run the Comfort Inn say they expect much busier times ahead, especially as new tourist attractions continue to pop up in Pawtucket. Hotspots like The Met, Paint and Vino, and two new breweries, the Bucket Brewery and Foolproof Brewing Company, are among those that have arrived since the bridge project began. They join stalwarts like the Pawtucket Red Sox and the Slater Mill as drivers for hotel traffic, said Poole.

Denise Panichas, who runs the Samaritans of Rhode Island Forget-Me-Not Gallery at 65 Park Place, is working with neighbors to create a more cohesive identity for the neighborhood immediately surrounding the new Pawtucket River Bridge, according to McAlpine. After the bridge project commenced back in 2010, there was very little cohesion going on here, she said.

In addition to better roads and easier access, future hotel guests will also get an up-close view of the new Pawtucket River Bridge, which, starting Sept. 7, will be lighted at night in a variety of color schemes.

Workers are now completing final details of the bridge project, like landscaping, installation of signs, programming architectural lighting, and general cleanup, according to an official from the Rhode Island Department of Transportation.

Once work is complete in the next few days, a final inspection will take place and a "punch list" of items completed will be reviewed, "the last thing that is done before a project is deemed complete," according to Rose Amoros, spokeswoman for the DOT. The entire project should be deemed complete sometime next week, she said.

Jamsan Hotels, which operates at least 24 other hotels across the Northeast, purchased the Comfort Inn and the abutting Ground Round back in April of 2012 for $4.4 million. The hotel had been in the Murphy family for five decades.