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A Change of Hands for the Concord: A Catskills Icon

David Chen

January 20, 1999

WHITE PLAINS -- In legal terms, the auction in Courtroom 520 at the United States Bankruptcy Court here was titled "97-20487 Fre-Par Laboratories Inc., A New York Corporation, Chapter 11 Hearing of Sale."

But for the standing-room-only crowd of more than 100 who jammed Judge Adlai S. Hardin Jr.'s chambers, this was no ordinary court proceeding. It was the end of an era for a beloved but beleaguered cultural icon: the Concord Resort Hotel in the Catskills.

After closing its doors for good in November following 61 years of stewardship by the same family, the financially troubled hotel was auctioned off Tuesday for $10.25 million to Concord Associates LP, a New York development group headed by Joseph Murphy, a hotel developer. Concord Associates beat out two other bidders in a lengthy, meandering court proceeding that sandwiched more than five hours of legal parrying around an auction that, in the end, took only 15 minutes.

Concord Associates, which put down a $2 million deposit to enter the auction, now has 10 days to close the deal. If it is successful, the group will get the green light on its plans to turn the hotel into a destination -- not for the crowds of Jewish families who were long the main patrons of the hotel, but for business travelers, conventioneers and outdoor enthusiasts.

"This hotel needs a completely new image," said Louis Tallarini, executive vice president of Value Investors Inc., Murphy's real estate company in Manhattan. "We intend to fully renovate the hotel."

Tallarini said that the group plans to work with the Sheraton Hotel chain to renovate the hotel at a cost of $40 million to $50 million. He said the new hotel, which would be called the Sheraton Concord Resort Hotel and Convention Center, would be marketed as a top-notch resort on 1,710 acres (twice the size of Central Park) with 2 1/2 golf courses, 40 indoor and outdoor tennis courts and boundless other recreational activities.

The new hotel would employ about 1,500 people -- many of whom, Tallarini said, would presumably be drawn from a pool of former Concord employees who have been barely scraping by since the hotel shut down on Nov. 3.

More than 400 people lost their jobs, and about 60 employees who had been living in the hotel suddenly became homeless.

The hotel expects to work with the employees' union, Local 76 of the Hotel and Restaurant Employees and Bartenders Union, whose leadership is currently at odds with rank-and-file members over seniority and pension issues.

If all goes well, however, the hotel might be open by next January -- a pleasant prospect for Sullivan County officials.

"The county is very pleased," said Rusty Pomeroy, chairman of the county's Legislature. "We wanted to get a developer who's going to keep the property on the tax rolls and invest and create a new resort."

Many decades ago, the Concord, in the community of Kiamesha Lake, about 90 miles northwest of New York, was the newest and swankiest place in the Catskills for weddings, bar mitzvahs and family reunions. It was part of the Borscht Belt, a group of resorts that catered to a mostly Jewish clientele, and for many years, it occupied a place in many hearts as a family vacation home.

But by the 1960's and 1970's, people were looking elsewhere -- Florida, Atlantic City, even Europe -- for entertainment and leisure, especially with the availability of jet travel. Through it all, some people said, the Concord and many other Catskills resorts did not adjust accordingly. And one by one, the famous resorts closed.

The Concord held out until November, when, saddled by more than $20 million in debt, it was forced to close.

In the courtroom Tuesday were several people who had nothing to do with the legal proceedings. They were, it turns out, long-time customers of the Concord who wanted to know what would become of their dear, frail friend.

"We watched the Concord grow from her infancy, and I'm a very sentimental person," said Gloria Chait, 69, who drove up from Flushing, Queens, with her husband to witness the proceedings.

"It wasn't the finality I was looking for," she said. "I was looking for the future."