Napa developer Jim Keller has filed preliminary plans with the city to build a downtown hotel that encompasses both the former Franklin Station post office and the current site of Zeller’s Ace Hardware.
The proposal introduces a broad, conceptual plan for the conversion of the former post office and Zeller’s into a 175,000-square-foot, 163-key hotel and the construction of a 79,000-square-foot retail and parking structure across the street, behind Billco’s, with 228 parking spaces.
Keller is asking the city for planning and zoning amendments to allow for a hotel project that may include sections up to five stories. The historic elements of the post office would be preserved.
In 2016, Keller first announced his plan for the post office redevelopment. In March, he bought the property for $2 million. He also paid $1.7 million to the city for the adjacent parking lot at Second and Randolph.
According to Keller’s application, Dick Clark, the owner of Zeller’s Ace Hardware, agreed in February to sell his property so it could be incorporated into the hotel project.
Although Clark has owned the property for more than 20 years, “changes in the retail markets had them considering relocating,” said the project application.
“We’re going to get (Zeller’s) relocated somewhere else” in the downtown area, said Keller. “We’re working together to make sure that’s an option.”
In an interview, Clark said selling his property to Keller “fits for him and for me too.” Since the emptying of the former Town Center and the closure of the historic post office after the August 2014 earthquake, foot traffic around his hardware business has declined.
“I haven’t seen anything” open in downtown Napa yet to replace that traffic, Clark said. With the way downtown is changing, he’s not sure downtown still needs a hardware store.
Clark said he believes he can find a new space near downtown or on the west side of Napa. He owns another Ace hardware store on Lincoln Avenue in east Napa.
“I’m very flexible,” said Clark. “We might not be in this location but we will be someplace else.”
“I will relocate Zeller’s,” he said.
Without the Zeller’s site, it’s less likely that Keller’s post office deal would have progressed.
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“Integration of the Ace site allows for hotel site of sufficient size in order to be operationally efficient and justify the economics to rehabilitate the post office structure,” said the project application.
The Zeller’s property sale could close sometime in the next year or two, depending on the timing of the project, said Keller. However, “It’s definitely part of the deal,” he said.
Keller declined to disclose the sale price for the Ace hardware property. He initially conceived of an 80-room boutique hotel on just the post office property, but with this extra space, “we’re able to spread things out.”
With a larger footprint and more hotel rooms, “It’s opened the doors” to talking to hotel operators that work on larger projects, Keller said. “It gives me the freedom to select the right operator and form the right partnership to preserve it indefinitely.”
Keller said his project was influenced by such hotels as the Sagamore Pendry Baltimore, the Kimpton Hotel Monaco Washington D.C., the Trump International Old Post Office in Washington, D.C. and the Peninsula Hotel in Chicago.
A conceptual map of the proposed project shows the former post office lobby designated as the hotel lobby with lounge and bar area.
A lap pool and spa area could be built in the basement space, formerly home to offices and meeting rooms. The conceptual plans detail two lobby entrances, one on Second Street and one on Third Street. The hotel will also include reception areas and public common spaces.
These are just preliminary ideas to get the entitlement process started, noted Keller.
The commercial buildings south of the parking lot, home to Billco’s Billiards and Darts and Wildcat Vintage Clothing, are not owned by him and are not part of this project, Keller said.
Downtown’s historic post office was closed after the 2014 earthquake. In July 2015, the USPS originally moved to demolish the building, which was built in the Art Deco style in the 1930s.
The agency said that it would cost $8 million to repair quake damage, while it would cost only $500,000 for demolition.
The Napa Franklin Station was built in 1933 with funding from the federal Public Works Administration. In 1985, it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
After considerable public outcry, the USPS decided to try selling it to a buyer who could repair the structure and preserve its architectural integrity.