November 29, 2022

Just Moments

Travel Groove

Wylder Windham opens adventure resort in the Catskills

WINDHAM — Many sprawling old resort properties of the Catskills sit abandoned and dormant for decades until a new hospitality entrepreneur comes along to capitalize on our love of nostalgia.

Not so for the Thompson House, a beloved 160-year-old institution in Windham. When the Goettsche family decided to sell the resort last spring, it didn’t take long for the property to be snapped up — for $2.27 million — by Wylder, a small hotel group with properties in Hope Valley, California, and Tilghman Island, Maryland. 

Wylder’s acquisition of the resort, renamed the Wylder Windham, is part of a continuing Catskills development boom in the former Borscht Belt, commonly defined as Venn diagram-like area within Orange, Sullivan and Ulster counties. The trend began before the pandemic and accelerated as the push to get out into the upstate’s open spaces began among New York City residents. Wylder Windham is the first new resort in proximity to Windham Mountain, a popular Catskills ski destination.

Wylder hasn’t publicly disclosed the cost of renovating the property, which was designed by Brooklyn-based Post Company and local architect Jason Anderson and executed by Baxter Built, but estimates put it at around $27 million. Instead of channeling the budget into sleek or flashy accommodations, Wylder is going back to basics, with easygoing, unpretentious spaces that complement their natural surroundings — and that feel a little something like summer camp.

“The brand is about nostalgia. It’s about your kids running around barefoot, leaving your cell phone in your room, listening to some bluegrass music, having an ice cream cone, going swimming, getting on a bike,” said Wylder Hotels founder and CEO John Flannigan. “It’s about just relaxing in a hammock or sitting by the fire pit, and focusing on the things that are important in life.”

Wylder’s vision

Wylder’s concept for redeveloping the 20-acre Thompson House property started with the greener premise of honoring the architectural integrity of the existing seven structures, rather than tearing down and building anew. This entailed major structural improvements to a few of the buildings and a down-to-the-studs makeover for all. Nods to sustainability include an overhauled HVAC system, new energy-efficient windows, new clapboard siding and the removal of dead trees and overgrown shrubs that were contributing to rot around the property.

The interiors have been given brand-new oak floors, shiplap walls and wood moldings, which lend the resort a down-to-earth feel that complements its wooded surroundings. The bathrooms, decked out in white tile and Carrara marble, are, by contrast, “a little luxurious,” said Flannigan. “They feel like they should be in these elegant buildings, you know?”

The interiors have been given brand-new oak floors, shiplap walls and wood moldings, plus touches of white tile and Carrara marble.

The interiors have been given brand-new oak floors, shiplap walls and wood moldings, plus touches of white tile and Carrara marble.

Michael Carnevale / Courtesy of Wylder Hotels

The family-friendly Tamarack Lodge has several ground-level suites that open to the outdoors.

The family-friendly Tamarack Lodge has several ground-level suites that open to the outdoors.

Michael Carnevale / Courtesy of Wylder Hotels

Rooms feature handcrafted furniture, and 82 of them have private balconies. The resort has 110 guest rooms and suites overall.

Rooms feature handcrafted furniture, and 82 of them have private balconies. The resort has 110 guest rooms and suites overall.

Michael Carnevale / Courtesy of Wylder Hotels

The design-minded Bruce Lodge retains some of the building’s original features, such as a hand-carved staircase.

The design-minded Bruce Lodge retains some of the building’s original features, such as a hand-carved staircase.

Michael Carnevale / Courtesy of Wylder Hotels

The resort has 110 guest rooms and suites, ranging from basic queen sleepers to the three-bedroom, multi-balconied Baller Suite, which can sleep six. Wylder kept the Thompson House names for the buildings, each of which offers a different lodging experience. The family-friendly Tamarack Lodge, for example, has several ground-level suites that open to the outdoors, while the design-minded Bruce Lodge shines a spotlight on some of the building’s original features, such as a hand-carved staircase and stained-glass windows.

Rooms feature handcrafted furniture from California, Wylder’s home base. Eighty-two of them have their own balconies, with Adirondack chairs and tables, and views of the mountains and the Batavia Kill. Rates vary seasonally, and generally start at $340 per night and go up to $700. A rental of the four-bed, three-bath Farmhouse runs over $1,000. For an extra $55 per night, dogs are welcome in all guest quarters.

The Wylder team hopes to fill a void in regional accommodations, especially for families, weddings, and corporate retreats and small conferences. In The Pines, the largest building on the property, a 4,000-square-foot event space can accommodate up to 200 people. It also has a lounge open to the public.

The Main Lodge is the centerpiece of the property. It features 10 homey rooms, an outdoor seating area, and a massive basement-level rec room with a pool table, shuffleboard and vintage arcade games. On the side lawn, the heated outdoor pool will be open past Labor Day.

The Pines has a 4,000-square-foot event space and a lounge open to the public.

The Pines has a 4,000-square-foot event space and a lounge open to the public.

Michael Carnevale / Courtesy of Wylder Hotels

The Main Lodge is the centerpiece of the property.

The Main Lodge is the centerpiece of the property.

Michael Carnevale / Courtesy of Wylder Hotels

The heated outdoor pool will be open past Labor Day.

The heated outdoor pool will be open past Labor Day.

Michael Carnevale / Courtesy of Wylder Hotels

The game lawn has an adult summer camp, feel with swings, hammocks, fire pits, pickleball, horseshoes and tennis. There’s also an 18-hole golf course on site.

The game lawn has an adult summer camp, feel with swings, hammocks, fire pits, pickleball, horseshoes and tennis. There’s also an 18-hole golf course on site.

Michael Carnevale / Courtesy of Wylder Hotels

The Lodge also houses the resort’s two dining venues. Babblers Bakery offers grab-and-go sandwiches, salads and pastries that are ideal for hiking and picnicking. The full-service Babblers Restaurant, says resort general manager Andrea Francisco, focuses on “honest and classic comfort fare.” The goal is to create something that is appreciated by and accessible to both tourists and residents alike. “We want locals and out-of-towners to rub shoulders,” Francisco said. 

For the large game lawn, Wylder has aimed for the feeling of an adult summer camp, with swings, hammocks and fire pits. Nostalgia-inducing games include pickleball and horseshoes. The property has two outdoor saunas and an 18-hole golf course. The resort also plans to partner with local tour guides to offer activities such as fishing expeditions or lazy tubing along the Batavia Kill.

Babblers Bakery offers grab-and-go sandwiches, salads and pastry that are ideal for hiking and picnicking.

Babblers Bakery offers grab-and-go sandwiches, salads and pastry that are ideal for hiking and picnicking.

Michael Carnevale / Courtesy of Wylder Hotels

Babblers Restaurant focuses on “honest and classic comfort fare,” says resort general manager Andrea Francisco.

Babblers Restaurant focuses on “honest and classic comfort fare,” says resort general manager Andrea Francisco.

Michael Carnevale / Courtesy of Wylder Hotels

The resort plans to partner with local tour guides to offer activities such as fishing expeditions or lazy tubing along the Batavia Kill.

The resort plans to partner with local tour guides to offer activities such as fishing expeditions or lazy tubing along the Batavia Kill.

Michael Carnevale / Courtesy of Wylder Hotels

There are views aplenty of the Catskill Mountains.

There are views aplenty of the Catskill Mountains.

Michael Carnevale / Courtesy of Wylder Hotels

Impact on the local economy

Flannigan predicts the resort will be a “big move-the-needle” moment for the economy of Windham and Greene County. In addition to creating 50 to 60 jobs, it’s projected to generate $58.8 million in revenue in its first five years.  

When asked how Wylder Windham can counteract the negatives that come with the influx of visitation and big-budget development, Flannigan initially seems lost for words. “That’s interesting, (the perception) that tourism isn’t always positive.” (As Thompson House’s now-dormant Facebook page makes evident, not everyone was on board with the changes.)

“When I started Wylder Hotels six years ago, it was on a little island in the Chesapeake Bay, in a very famous, rundown fishing lodge,” he said. “We turned that around and engaged with the local businesses, and the community thrived.” He points to the Maryland resort’s hiring of local staff, as well as featuring local musicians, tour guides, artists, fitness professionals and experts in everything from history talks to wildflower walks. He confirms that plans are in the works for similar public services at Wylder Windham. 

“Wylder hotels is a hundred percent about the community,” Flannigan added. “We make sure we have plenty of parking, so we’re sensitive to the locals. We work really closely with the police, fire department, the town supervisor and the planning board. We obviously get a huge amount of tourists from all over, and they coexist really well with the locals. We want to be the ‘living room’ of the neighborhood.”