A nearly 200-year-old National Guard Armory at 70 Main St. in Middletown is being redeveloped into a luxury hotel, the Inn at Middletown.

A downtown revitalization project in central Connecticut is finding a new use for an old building while simultaneously filling a need for the city and its university.

After sitting vacant for the better part of two decades, Middletown’s National Guard Armory at 70 Main St. has been reborn into an upscale boutique hotel. Construction began almost a year ago, in September of 2002, and planning began even further back.

Having undergone a push for development in the downtown area over the course of the last few years, city officials, commercial developers and local business owners put their heads together to find a use for the vacant armory.

Owned by the Weitzman family – the late Gerald Weitzman was president of the famous Pelton’s Pharmacy on an adjacent lot – the building had been dormant since the early 1990s when the family purchased it from the city.

After several ideas were tossed around, it was decided to transform the aging building into a hotel – something the city didn’t have. Despite the fact that Middletown is home to Wesleyan University, it boasts only two roadside motor lodges along the highway and no luxury hotels.

“Through the efforts of the city, the university and the Weitzman family, we were able to bring the project to fruition,” said Laura Falt, who previously worked with the local tourism district and now is director of sales at the Inn at Middletown, as the new hotel will be called Although the city spent roughly $400,000 on the project, it is not an owner. The hotel is owned by a partnership whose president, Robert Friedman, is something of a hotel entrepreneur as well as co-owner of the Norwich Navigators baseball club. Friedman has helped start other hotels in the state, included one located in Storrs adjacent to the University of Connecticut campus.

Connecticut’s oldest National Guard Armory has since undergone an elegant and historic transformation on Main Street into the city of Middletown’s first luxury hotel in 50 years. The stately, nearly 200-year-old armory will reopen in October as the Inn at Middletown, with 100 luxury rooms including 12 suites, intimate meeting and function space and an upscale American dining experience at the Tavern at the Armory.

With major support from Wesleyan University, the city of Middletown and local investors, members of the city’s business community expect that The Inn at Middletown and the Tavern at the Armory will become a new hub of activity at the south end of bustling Main Street, located just off Route 9 in central Connecticut.

“Having a hotel within walking distance to international dining, shopping and entertainment makes us unique in our market. Between New Haven and Hartford, we are the only hotel and meeting facility located in a downtown center,” said Falt. “The location of the Inn will be a great benefit to our guests when here on business or pleasure.”

The Inn is designed to celebrate the historic importance of the Armory while offering modern, high-end amenities. The grand entrance features a two-story, curved staircase, a marble lobby and welcoming fireplace to greet guests. Each guest room will feature mahogany period furniture as well as two-line speakerphones with modem ports. High-speed Internet access will be available throughout the property. Other amenities include valet and self-parking, a fitness center, an indoor heated pool as well as a Jacuzzi spa. The Inn’s Presidential Suite offers a commanding view of the Connecticut River.

Rooms inside the armory honor those who helped to turn the hotel into a reality. The Weitzman room is named in honor of Gerald Weitzman. The Wesleyan room is a nod to the university that was a large part of the development process.

‘Happening’ Downtown

The Tavern at the Armory will feature upscale, traditional New England cuisine highlighted by regional and seasonal dishes. Serving breakfast, lunch and dinner, as well as offering room service, the Tavern will add a slice of Americana to Middletown’s busy dining scene with Colonial-era decor such as wooden paneling and floors, and gas lamp-style lighting.

“We want the restaurant to be the place where people gather to relax and have fun,” said restaurant General Manager Anthony Rootham, formerly a food and beverage director with the five-star Mayflower Inn in the town of Washington. “We want to be the town-wide meeting place, much like the coach-stop tavern [that originally existed adjacent to the Armory], the place everyone came to for social and sporting events – that created a real community feeling. We are very much inspired by the idea of rekindling that spirit.”

The Inn also features over 4,500 total square feet of meeting and banquet space, with a 1,700-square-foot common reception area for small and medium-sized meetings. It can also host a number of other events, including reunions and weddings.

“From the standpoint that the original brick facade is restored, this hotel will resemble the old armory,” said Falt, noting that there is new construction that extends both up and out from the original footprint. The interior was completed gutted to make room for all of the guest suites and meeting rooms.

“This is an upscale boutique property,” she said. “The interior is meant to reflect the time period of the late 1800s [and] early 1900s when the armory was in it peak use. Walking in you’ll find a granite and marble lobby, with a grand spiral staircase leading up to the next floor.”

The National Guard Armory was built in 1812, but stopped functioning as a training center in the early 1990s. During its 200-year-long history, it has been the focal point for community and cultural events. Units from both World War II and the Korean War trained at the Armory, as did servicemen during the Vietnam War. Prior to 1812, the grand, Federal-style building was a private residence of the Alsop family.

However, Falt noted that the project would not have been possible had the downtown area not undergone revitalization. She noted that the hotel now “makes sense” in the context of Middletown’s up-and-coming economic development. Falt was also quick to point out that there was a need for such a project.

“There has never been anything near Wesleyan for family and friends to have at their convenience,” said Falt.

The Inn and Tavern are located at the entrance of Wesleyan University’s campus. One of the nation’s leading liberal arts colleges, and home to more than 2,700 full-time Wesleyan undergraduates, and 1,000 graduate students respectively.

The Inn is expected to bring a new dimension to an increasingly vibrant downtown area that includes a 12-screen stadium-style movie theater, Kidcity Children’s Museum, as well as a variety of shops, galleries and dining experiences. Nearby activities include a variety of public and championship golf courses, an array of performing arts venues, river cruises, antiquing and historic homes.

Slated for an October opening, presale of the hotel has begun. Reservations have been steadily coming in through the inn’s Web site, said Falt, and key university dates such as graduation have already been sparking interest.

“Things are definitely happening here,” said Falt. “This project is going to work.”