ST. HELENA — The City Council has postponed plans to seek out potential hotel developers for the city-owned Adams Street property.
A split council told staff Tuesday to hold off on issuing a call for developers for at least six to eight months until the city estimates the cost of various infrastructure improvements that could be financed by selling the property.
Mayor Geoff Ellsworth initially said that the proposed Request For Qualifications/Request For Proposals (RFQ/RFP) “is going to move forward,” and the purpose of the hearing was to establish criteria for a potential hotel. But at the end of the five-hour meeting, he agreed with Councilmembers David Knudsen and Anna Chouteau that the city should slow down.
“We will still be an attractive opportunity for someone in six months,” Ellsworth said.
In the meantime, consultants will assess the needs and costs associated with a new City Hall, upgrades at the library, and conceptual recreational facilities. The city is also planning the downtown streetscape project and long-term renovations of the city’s storm drains and sewer and water infrastructure.
A majority of the council agreed that more public engagement is necessary before the community will support a hotel on Adams Street.
“I suspect that you’ll have buy-in from the citizens if you allow enough flexibility … for them to say ‘This is what we really want,’” said Councilmember David Knudsen. “And when they say what they really want, then we’ll say ‘OK, this is what we have to do to pay for it.’”
Councilmembers Paul Dohring and Mary Koberstein wanted to issue the RFQ/RFP right away, with the understanding that a good portion of the 5.6-acre property would be reserved for public use.
Dohring said people are in “extreme denial” about the city needing millions of dollars for a new City Hall and police station, library upgrades, streetscape enhancements, rising employee health care costs and pension liabilities.
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“I would rather not sell this property, but at some point you have to face reality,” he said. “We need cash and we need it now.”
Councilmember Mary Koberstein gave ballpark estimates of $8 million for a new City Hall and $6 million for a new police station. The city can’t cover those costs simply by issuing general obligation bonds, she said.
About 90 members of the public packed the Vintage Hall boardroom for the highly anticipated hearing, although many of them had left by the time the council gave direction to staff just before 11 p.m. Twenty-one people spoke during public comment, most of them strongly opposing a hotel on Adams Street.
Sue Clark, president of the St. Helena Historical Society, pitched the concept of a Heritage Center offering photos and memorabilia, Native American artifacts, vintage farm tools and equipment, historical lectures, and a historically accurate one-room schoolhouse featuring preserved elements of the old Vineland schoolhouse.
A Heritage Center, funded by the historical society, is one element of Anthony Micheli’s plan for the property.
He also envisions a parking lot that could host the Farmers’ Market and other community events. The city bought the property from Virginia Daly for half of market rate with the understanding that it be reserved for the community, Micheli said. It would be a “travesty” for the council to sell it, he said.
Other speakers highlighted the adverse impacts of a hotel, such as increased traffic and the loss of the property’s scenic views. There are other hotels in the works, including at Freemark Abbey and Farmstead, that could attract more customers for downtown businesses and draw far less controversy than an Adams Street hotel, they said.
“If you look at residents of Yountville, Napa, Calistoga – citizens of those towns were sacrificed for tourism,” said Leslie Stanton. “They’re not happy. … Please don’t sacrifice us for money.”