Developers of the proposed Archer Napa hotel on First Street in downtown Napa are gearing up for a significant public hearing before the city’s Planning Commission Thursday evening.
The hearing will be a forum on the merits, design and scope of the five-story, 183-room hotel and retail development, which is slated to surround the historic Merrill’s Drug Store building. The public can weigh in on matters like traffic, design aesthetics, building heights, signage and permitted uses.
Kevin Teague, a local land-use attorney who is representing the developer of the project, said the hotel “is, perhaps, the most critical piece in completing the revitalization of downtown ...”
Current plans submitted by developer LodgeWorks include the Archer Napa hotel, several restaurants, retail and meeting spaces, a 7,000-square-foot rooftop bar that will be open to the public, a pool, a separate outdoor patio and 218 parking spaces. The proposed development totals 164,438 square feet and will cost about $70 million.
Unlike the city’s recent Cultural Heritage Commission meeting on the Archer project – which focused solely on preservation of the landmark Merrill’s facade, and ended with the commission unanimously approved the project’s plans – Thursday’s hearing will allow the public to openly discuss all aspects of the proposal.
While Archer representatives are upbeat about the specifics of the project, they remain less-than-thrilled about an effort by an Oakland-based hotel workers union to force their hand at unionizing the hotel.
“LodgeWorks is committed to the Napa community — from our development of the hotel, to working with the Downtown Specific Plan, to our commitment to the local workforce in Napa,” said Mike Daood, president of LodgeWorks. “In the end, employees choose whether they want to be represented by a union — not the employer and not the union.”
After the Cultural Heritage Commission approved the Archer’s plans, a hotel union called Unite Here, Local 2850 that represents workers in the North and East Bay, filed an appeal of the commission’s ruling, citing insufficient preservation efforts by the developers. The union does not represent any workers in Napa hotels.
In a notice filed with the Napa City Clerk’s office on Thursday, Taylor Hudson, who attended the Cultural Heritage Commission hearing, argued that city staff and LodgeWorks did not provide sufficient analysis on the possibility of restoring the Merrill’s Building. Hudson’s appeal also claimed the Archer project likely violated policies in the city’s General Plan for development, though did not specify which ones.
The union’s appeal made a host of other claims related to the historic significance of the Merrill’s Building. Calls and an email to Hudson were not returned this week.
Napa Planning Manager Ken MacNab said Tuesday that the Cultural Heritage Commission’s decision stands until the appeal is heard by the Napa City Council. He said that Thursday’s Planning Commission hearing will not be affected.
“Currently, we’re working on preparing a response to send out to the appellant and we’ll get a hearing date set shortly after,” he said.
Lodgeworks officials said Tuesday that the union’s appeal is wrong. “We believe the CHC’s unanimous decision approving the preservation of the historic component of the Merrill’s building frontage was the correct decision,” Daood said. “The process to arrive at the proper treatment (of the building) was extraordinary and involved multiple preservation experts who required significant modifications to our proposal.”
Built in 1929 by Samuel P. Gordon, the Merrill’s structure originally housed a Safeway, and later went through several retailers before Merrill’s Drug Store occupied the space in the 1960s. Since Merrill’s closed its doors in 1994, the building has remained largely unoccupied. It is listed as a landmark on the city’s Historical Resource Inventory and is eligible for the National Register of Historic Places, though it is not y on the national list.
At the Cultural Heritage Commission hearing in early June, commissioners were pleased with the developer’s plans to restore and protect the historic terra cotta façade on the First Street side of the building. They also understood plans to demolish siding along Coombs Street that is in poor condition and past the point of saving.
Members of the public who attended the June 3 meeting questioned Hudson’s motives in opposing the development, including Gordon Huether, a planning commissioner and Napa artist. Huether, who sat on the city’s Downtown Specific Plan steering committee, said the project does follow city’s development plans. He has been commissioned to produce artwork for the Archer, and will be recusing himself from Thursday’s discussion and vote.
In 2008, the same hotel union successfully ousted a 196-room Kimpton hotel project proposed on Solano Avenue. Local 2850 garnered enough public support to force the city to put a referendum vote on the November 2008 ballot, challenging the hotel on environmental grounds. The referendum said the project failed to adequately study traffic and noise impacts on nearby neighborhoods that would be created by the proposed development.
Ultimately, Sacramento developer McCuen Properties scrapped its plans, disappointing the Napa City Council that had previously approved the project and was hoping to generate about $1.2 million in annual tax revenue from the upscale hotelier.
LodgeWorks officials said that while delays such as the appeal present challenges, the developer is committed to the project, despite the union’s efforts.
“We owe it to the community to proceed with the project until we can realize an outcome that will deliver a vibrant future and many upsides to downtown Napa,” Daood said.
According to the city’s preliminary report on Archer Napa, a traffic study concluded the hotel-anchored development would generate less traffic in the area than is recommended under the city’s 2012 Downtown Specific Plan for development.
Thursday’s hearing will begin at 7 p.m. in Napa City Council chambers at 955 School St. in downtown. To view the city’s report on the project, visit www.cityofnapa.org.