(Note: After this article was published, the council's initial discussion of the Adams Street property was postponed to May 28.)
The St. Helena City Council is seeking public input before inviting proposals for a hotel on the city-owned Adams Street property.
The city is considering approving a hotel on a portion of the 5.6-acre property, with the rest of the land reserved for vines and public uses like open space and a path to the Napa River.
The council is scheduled to discuss the matter at its May 14 meeting and then vote on May 28 to issue a Request For Proposals (RFP) or Request For Qualifications (RFQ) to potential developers.
A 70-room luxury hotel taking up just half of the property could generate $2.5 million a year for the city in hotel taxes, property taxes and sales taxes, in addition to the revenue from the land sale, according to Ken Hira of the economic consulting firm Kosmont Companies.
Based on Hira’s report, the council has agreed to test the waters and see how hotel developers respond. The responses to an RFP/RFQ could help the council select a developer to work with in fleshing out a hotel project.
During an April 24 special meeting, the council debated how quickly to issue an RFP. It was a fraught subject, since the city’s last Adams Street RFP in 2016 caused a public outcry that led the council to reject all three of the proposals submitted by developers.
Mayor Geoff Ellsworth and Councilmember David Knudsen wanted to collect more community input before issuing another RFP, maybe in the form of a public workshop modeled on the recent streetscape open house.
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In determining an outcome for Adams Street, “We don’t need the developers to tell us,” Knudsen said. “I think the town can tell us.”
Councilmembers Paul Dohring and Mary Koberstein were in favor of moving ahead quickly with the RFP and letting the community respond to developers’ proposals, rather than trying to design the project up front.
“I say we leave it to the developer, who is the more expert land planner than we are sitting here, to figure out how to make the best development they can within the other conditions we’ve put upon them,” Koberstein said.
The council eventually settled on a compromise. They will collect input on May 14 and then vote on the RFP on May 28.
The public has been divided over what to do with the property ever since the city bought it in 2000. Supporters say a hotel would bring more customers to St. Helena’s struggling stores and be in the city’s best financial interests over the long term.
Potential hotel developers “are waiting for a signal that St. Helena is open for business,” said Jake Scheideman, owner of St. Helena Cyclery. “Let’s show them that signal.”
Other people say the Adams Street property should be a community resource, not a cash cow. They say the council should recognize the value of the property's historic vineyard and consider the negative impacts of a hotel such as increased traffic and water use.
“I understand the city wants to sell it and make a lot of money, but think of the nightmare you’re going to cause downtown,” Anthony Micheli told the council.