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Hotelier Transforms Quaint Shelter Island Inn

By: Jessica DiNapoli
Published: 5/27/2011Source: Long Island Business News

After a deal to buy a bigger, more visible hotel on Shelter Island fell through, an international hotelier and his local partner invested in refurbishing the Olde Country Inn.


Scotland native Alistair MacLean and John Sieni, a lifelong Shelter Island resident, in January bought the Olde Country Inn and renamed it “La Maison Blanche.” Since then, the duo has transformed the 19th century structure into an upscale hotel with a French flair – a complete makeover that involved replacing old-fashioned net curtains with sleek shades, repainting peach walls a chic white and installing courts for Pétanque, a version of bocce ball.


MacLean, who also runs The Smyth in Tribeca and formerly managed hotels in Saint-Tropez, did not disclose how much he invested in the hotel. Last year, he put an offer a Shelter Island landmark, the Chequit Inn, but the deal collapsed over a dispute on a parking easement.


The hotel business on the 12.1-square-mile Island, which only has a year-round population of 2,300, is booming, according to local real estate agents. Economic strain has pushed Island visitors who would normally rent a home for the season into the Island’s hotels, explained Georgiana Ketcham. Ketcham owns Georgiana B. Ketcham Real Estate in Shelter Island and has worked as a broker for 40 years.


“People are doing a lot of weekend vacations rather than whole seasons,” Ketcham said.


The Chequit, which greets visitors to the Island who arrive on the North Ferry, is currently on the market for $4.75 million, according to Brandon Tarpey, a broker from Manhattan-based Massey Knakal who is handling the transaction. Since the real estate firm took over selling the 35-room hotel in March, it has received inquiries from as far afield as the West Coast, Tarpey said.


The Chequit also comes with the Ram’s Head Inn, a 250-seat restaurant overlooking Dering Harbor.


La Maison Blanche’s location on the Island is more secluded, quiet and closer to the beach, advantages in MacLean’s eyes when he looked into buying it and making it into a year-round destination. MacLean had a sense of the real estate market from his eight years of experience running Sunset Beach, another hotel with a sophisticated feel on Shelter Island.


On weekends since April, the hotel’s restaurant has recorded more than 100 covers per night. MacLean hopes a deal recently inked with a Manhattan-based seaplane company can attract more customers.


Helicopters, the preferred mode of transportation for many East End visitors, are forbidden on Shelter Island, MacLean noted.


Penelope Moore, an associate broker with the Corcoran Group in Shelter Island, said that the year-round businesses on Shelter Island that do best cater to both the locals and the out-of-towners. From what she’s seen of the new hotel so far – such as its takeout window, lunch menu and restaurant – it has a chance of succeeding.


“They have a lot of goodwill to begin with, and it seems like they want to appeal to everybody, both year-rounders and vacationers,” Moore said.