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The Next Step

RFQ Issued for Ambitious Project at Former Belchertown State School
Plans to convert the sprawling former Belchertown State School complex into a health and wellness center entered a new phase late last month, with the issuance of an RFQ, or request for statements of interest and qualifications, for the closely watched economic development initiative.

The RFQ, issued Sept. 27 by the Belchertown Economic Development and Industrial Corp. (BEDIC) and the Maryland-based Hunter Interests Inc., was distributed to approximately 400 prospective development companies across the country. It was issued to gauge interest within the development community for a project that will convert the long-abandoned property into a tourist attraction and jobs center.

While the specifics of the project will be shaped by the response from developers, plans for the site currently center around the Cold Spring Resort Hotel and Spa that would be built on a portion of a 100-acre section of the 400-acre Belchertown State School site. The hotel and spa would have a health and wellness theme and, hopefully, serve to unite many development elements of the overall project.

Some of these elements would involve new construction, while some might involve renovation of some of the 24 buildings that make up the complex, which, at its peak served more than 1,000 developmentally disabled children and adults.

The RFQ is the first step in a two-phase developer-solicitation process, said Ernest Bleinberger, senior vice president and chief operating officer for Hunter Interests, a real estate economics and financial consulting firm. The RFQ responses will be due Nov. 8, he explained, adding that the next step will be the issuance of a more-detailed request for proposals, or RFP, a step expected to occur in mid-November.

“This is basically a mixed-use project with a combination of hotel, office, retail, and other unique elements resulting from both an adaptive reuse approach and new construction on portions of the 100+ acres that are part of the master plan and development Strategy adopted by the BEDIC in August,” said Bleinberger. “The objective is to attract a development team that has both the capability to take on the overall project, which includes historic preservation and other challenges, as well as the all-important hotel development and operating piece.

“Tourism and other elements of market support are strong, not only for the hotel and spa, but for many uses that will serve the local and sub-regional population,” he continued. “We have had many verbal expressions of interest from small businesses and health professionals wishing to have a presence within this campus environment that is being created. There will be many amenities for locals, as well as for visitors from outside the area.”

During the month of October, Hunter and the BEDIC will be talking with prospective developers, coordinating site visits, providing additional background information as requested, and otherwise working to ensure a strong response to the RFQ, said Bleinberger. “In a project such as this, we would hope for perhaps a dozen qualified development companies to step forward. From there it’s a horse race to see which one is most competitive and the best fit for Belchertown.”

The health and wellness complex is the latest proposal forwarded for the complex, which closed in the early 1990s. Earlier concepts included a prison and a mix of retail and housing components.

The RFQ and future RFP will soon be available on, the official Web site for the town of Belchertown.