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Rare hotel featuring inclusive design opens in Amherst

Rare hotel featuring inclusive design opens in Amherst

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New Amherst Hampton Inn

The new Hampton Inn, which boasts that it is the first universal design hotel in the country, is preparing for their opening this Friday and the staff is busy doing the final walk-through.

Thermostats at lower points on the walls of the rooms. Bathrooms with roll-in showers and knee clearance under the sink.

And access from the parking lot into and around the hotel without needing to go up or down any steps.

These are other features are meant to make the new Hampton Inn Buffalo-Amherst as welcoming as possible to all guests of all abilities.

"The world is changing and buildings should, too," said Danise Levine, an architect and assistant director of the University at Buffalo's Center for Inclusive Design and Environmental Access, who consulted on the design. "The demand is there."

In fact, it's the first hotel in the country certified as universally designed, a standard that incorporates inclusive elements throughout the venue. 

The $14.4 million hotel, developed by Uniland Development Co. and operated by Brookwood Hospitality, opens Friday next to Amherst's Northtown Center.

"There is nothing about this hotel that is your typical Hampton," said Stephanie Pericozzi, the hotel's general manager.

Its opening comes as the novel coronavirus pandemic has eased in New York but travel and the large sports tournaments expected to fill the hotel's 107 rooms haven't rebounded yet.

Three years ago, Uniland was the only developer that responded to a request to build a hotel on a town-owned, 3-acre site at the Northtown Center ice rink and recreation facility.

Uniland in 2018 won $1.15 million in incentives from the Amherst Industrial Development Agency by arguing the project qualified as a tourism destination. The developer later bought the property from the town.

Uniland from the beginning set out to design a hotel that could better accommodate sled-hockey players and other athletes with disabilities.

Universal, or inclusive, design is different than accessible design, said Levine of UB's IDEA Center. Accessibility is a minimum standard and can be an afterthought in the design process.

The standard also usually centers on people with mobility or vision impairment and doesn't address the needs of people with, for example, cognitive disabilities, colorblindness, chemical sensitivity, she said.

"Accessibility is not good enough and as designers we need to go beyond that," Levine said.

There are no standard Hampton rooms in the hotel at 1601 Amherst Manor Drive. Seven of the 107 rooms are fully accessible, as required, with features such as a seat in the shower and window shades operated by a push button instead of a pull cord.

But the rest all have at least some universal design features. These include: the thermostat set lower on the wall, the roll-in shower, knee clearance at the sink, floating shelves next to the beds that leave room underneath for a CPAP machine or other item, a different shade of carpeting at doors to the rooms and room number signs that also have a black and white picture and braille writing.

The lobby, fitness center, entrances to rooms and the rooms themselves all offer more space than at a standard Hampton Inn and all entrances are at grade. This helps people who use a wheelchair or scooter but also benefits parents pushing strollers and athletes lugging bags filled with sports equipment.

"It's just a smart, sensible design," said Pericozzi, the general manager.

Brookwood Hospitality co-founder Phil Gaulin said the hotel could have fit another 10 or 12 rooms on the same footprint if all the rooms were standard in size.

The hotel expects to serve a number of out-of-town and out-of-state athletes and their families and has some Buffalo touches, such as items from the BFLO Store.

Crews broke ground on the four-story hotel in October 2018. The Covid-19 outbreak forced work to stop for 3 1/2 weeks on the hotel, which was delayed from its mid-May scheduled opening.

Guests must wear masks at all times in public spaces. The serve-yourself breakfast bar is replaced by staff-prepared meals and prepackaged food items.

The fitness center is open only by reservation to just one user at a time. Staff are wrapping remote controls in plastic coverings, for example, and will put a piece of tape as a seal on room doors after each cleaning.

Rooms average around $145 per night. The sports tournaments the hotel was counting on are basically lost for the summer and fall seasons. Pericozzi said the hotel has a block of rooms booked for a tournament in December and for two others early next year.

"We're hoping we'll see a gradual increase over time," said Brookwood's Gaulin.

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