YOUNTVILLE — A state-commissioned report outlining plans to modernize the Veterans Home of California suggests that the state Department of Veterans Affairs look into pacts with private contractors for on-site revenue generators such as an inn — a step some veterans called unlikely but still worrying to other residents.
Among the possibilities the CalVet master plan offers for raising revenue is replacing the aging, eight-room Hostess House with an inn to accommodate veterans’ relatives as well as tourists. The report suggests either the Napa Valley Museum’s overflow parking area or the “Holy Land” area in the home’s northeast corner as possible locations.
Authors envisioned an inn with “boutique-quality accommodations” spanning either one or two floors with a total of 50,000 square feet, but did not say what its total capacity should be.
Though a private contractor would run such an inn, a fixed number of rooms would be reserved at lower rates for guests visiting relatives staying at the Veterans Home — in line with the Hostess House, which offers rooms at about $35 nightly, far below the rates of Yountville’s luxury hotels nearby.
CalVet officials first broached the idea of an on-site inn during two meetings with town staff and Veterans Home residents in the spring of 2012, according to Councilmember Margie Mohler. Earlier this month, the veterans agency’s undersecretary of veterans homes, Diane Vanderpot, told Yountville Mayor John Dunbar and Town Manager Steve Rogers it had no immediate plans to pursue a hotel project at the home, she said.
Though Mohler was generally open to new uses to feed more revenue into the home, she cautioned that many details of the hotel proposal remain unresolved — including how many rooms would be needed to turn a profit, what the effects would be on local traffic, and how much room tax revenue the town could negotiate with the state. (Yountville does not collect room taxes from the Hostess House.)
“There aren’t any financial fundamentals to say this would generate this much revenue in this amount of time,” she said Friday. “All that is totally missing, so it’s really out there in the stratosphere before anything can turn into a reality. It needs a fair amount of work and thought before there’s a workable plan on where the priorities are.”
A 50,000-square-foot hotel building likely could hold between 50 and 80 guest rooms depending on the amount of public space for restaurants, lobbies and the like, according to Jim Treadway, general manager of the nearby Bardessono resort and hotel.
Running a profit-making inn while steeply subsidizing some rooms “is a difficult model to execute,” he said. “You need to charge market rates, which can be $200 to $400 night in Yountville for a modest place. But the relatives of veterans won’t be excited to pay $350 a night — and $350 gets you half a day at the Bardessono. It’s a very tough model when you try to be two things at once: to be a good little inn while also replacing an amenity for (veterans’) families.”
Yountville’s vice mayor, Lewis Chilton, was much less sanguine about any new visitor lodgings at the home, however well insulated from its full-time residents.
“It sounds like (CalVet) had consultants who said, ‘We have a piece of property, so what can we do with it?’” he said. “It doesn’t take into account that the Veterans Home’s purpose should be to serve veterans. ... My concern is that it might generate revenue for the state, but then what should the state do with that? We’ve seen enough times in the past, like with state lotteries that are supposed to raise money for the schools, that they give money with one hand and take it away with the other hand. I’d be very skeptical of any arrangement like that.”
The idea of an inn on Veterans Home grounds — even if sited well away from residence halls and public buildings — has irked some residents fearing disturbances to their daily routines, said Ed Warren, a member of the residents’ Allied Council advising the home administrator, but “I’m not alarmed like some others are,” he added. “I don’t think California is so anxious to make money that they’ll sell out the residents of a 130-year-old home.”