The development team behind south Napa’s Meritage Resort and Spa has unveiled its latest hotel project, a 250-room Marriott property that also would include a winery and tasting room.
But in its first look at the design, city land-use authorities declared it lacking in the distinction and wine-country image they sought for one of Napa’s busiest gateways.
Pacific Hospitality Group hopes to provide vacationers with a lower-price alternative to high-end resort lodgings like Meritage, which opened more than a decade ago. The project would fill 11.5 acres near the southern city limit, one of the last sizeable empty tracts within the Napa Valley Commons office park.
Before it can become reality, though, the hotel hub may have to overcome the skepticism of the Planning Commission, which on Thursday turned a critical eye on its architecture and layout during a design review at City Hall.
A large-scale project placed in view of thousands of out-of-towners must avoid the banality of chain businesses, declared Commissioner Gordon Huether.
“It looks like a Residence Inn, and the Marriott AC looks even worse,” he said of the building, which would carry Residence Inn and AC Hotel sub-brands of Marriott International Inc. “Scale of 1 to 10, I’d score it a 2; we have a long way to go here. You can clad it in gold, but it’s just not very compelling at all. … The last thing I really want to see when I’m rolling into Napa is a Residence Inn.”
Alex Myers, though more measured in his opinion, also sought a more distinctive look. “The exterior of the hotel does leave me wanting more,” he told Kory Kramer, president of the corporate park’s landowner association.
Drawings of the Marriott property depict a building whose two parts are a contrast in styles, matching the branding of each half.
One hundred rooms would comprise the Residence Inn, an extended-stay facility aimed at business travelers, while the remaining 153 rooms would carry the AC Hotel flag the company promotes to younger vacationers. Corrugated metal, stone and reclaimed wood will make up much of the façade, according to Rafael Velazquez, an associate vice president for the WATG architectural firm.
Joining the hotel would be a 26,214-square-foot, Trinitas-branded winery and tasting room and an office center enclosing 29,878 square feet. A parking area with room for 441 vehicles would serve all three buildings, with visitors turning off Highway 221 onto Napa Valley Corporate Way and then quickly turning right into the property.
Although the AC Hotel and Residence Inn would have separate entrances and meeting areas, they would be built around a common event lawn and pool while also drawing on the shuttle service, laundry and other amenities of the nearby Meritage Resort.
The layout struck Commissioner Paul Kelley as hiding rather than showcasing the development’s most Napa-centric attraction, by placing the winery father from the highway and the hotel and parking area close by.
“Why is the winery tucked so far off the road, with so much parking out front?” asked Kelley, who joined other planners in suggesting the tasting room, rather than the hotel, should greet passers-by on the main road into Napa.
Kramer, of the Commons’ property owner association, acknowledged the difficulty of combining multiple uses in a largely built-out corporate park and offered to return to the city with new ideas, but added that property lines largely dictate the placement of buildings that must occupy three separate parcels.
Because the hotel, winery and offices are marked for different purposes, Pacific Hospitality must site each according to the city land-use rules for each; only the hotel-zoned portion, for example, allows the 60-foot height required for four floors of guest rooms. Rearranging the site would require Pacific Hospitality to seek city approval to change the lot lines, Kramer said.
In any event, he added, the design of the Napa hotel has been crafted to be distinct from other AC Hotels in the more urban locales of Orange County, the Phoenix area and New Orleans.
“We wanted it to relate to the architecture that’s local,” said Kramer, who serves as Pacific Hospitality’s chief investment officer. “It’s one of the important things Marriott wants to do, that the architecture speaks to the local community.”
Commissioners Michael Murray and Beth Painter were absent for Thursday’s design review, a non-voting discussion that often serves as a springboard to design changes by a would-be builder.
The hotel-winery combination would continue the growth of tourist-based amenities in the Commons, which opened in the 1980s as Napa Valley Corporate Park and was long dominated by office and light-industrial occupants.
Pacific Hospitality Group oversaw the 2006 launch of the Meritage complex off Highway 221, which has prospered through several expansions and now numbers 322 rooms with access to 180 time-share dwellings at the Vino Bello Resort.
The latest addition, Meritage Commons, broke ground last year across Bordeaux Way from the original hotel and will include another 145 rooms as well as a wine-tasting “village,” demonstration kitchen, event lawn and a swimming pool. Property owners at the Commons also are developing a “Crusher District” intended to become a cluster of tasting rooms, adding wine-loving visitors to the mix of business employees at the office park.