By CLARK MASON
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
At five stories, the 75-room luxury hotel proposed for downtown Healdsburg would be the tallest building in the city, with sweeping views from the roof-top restaurant and swimming pool.
The “boutique” hotel with an art gallery and cafe on the ground floor aims to make a grand statement, projecting it as “one of the most important destinations of downtown Healdsburg.”
Representatives for The Kessler Collection, a Florida-based hotel company, spelled out the details in a prospectus submitted to the city.
Located a half-block south of the town plaza on the east side of Healdsburg Avenue, it would add more upscale lodging for the tourist haven, with a health spa, “state-of-the-art” meeting rooms and fitness center.
Kessler plans to market to the vacation and tourist element, but also aims to capture group and corporate business, including some of “the world’s best companies during the week.”
But even before plans for the hotel were submitted to the city on Sept. 26, word leaked out about the hotel size, prompting debate on whether it represents a tipping point that will detract from Healdsburg’s charm.
“The loss of small town character and too much tourism are the big issues. The big hotel is an example of that,” Warren Watkins, a retired math teacher, said Thursday.
Watkins heads Healdsburg Citizens for Sustainable Solutions, a group that fought Saggio Hills, the large residential and hotel development planned on the north end of the city. The group lost a legal battle to reduce the size of the project, which has yet to break ground.
Watkins, who says his group has more than 100 supporters, is considering whether to launch an initiative to limit the size of new hotels in Healdsburg, similar to the question before voters on Nov. 19 in the City of Sonoma. But he said he will await the outcome of the Sonoma election before deciding whether to proceed.
Members of the Healdsburg City Council, as well as the Chamber of Commerce, previously expressed their opposition to any measure to put a limit on hotel growth, warning that it could be economically crippling.
“This where we get our money,” City Councilman Gary Plass said Thursday of the hotel bed tax and sales tax revenues that tourism generates. “It keeps the water flowing and the toilets flushing.”
Indeed, the application submitted by Kessler estimates that in its opening year, the hotel will generate $850,000 in bed taxes for the city, then grow to more than $1.1 million.
Sales tax revenue from food, beverages and art sales, are estimated at $350,000 the first year and $450,000 annually by year five.
In addition, the applicant estimates the hotel will employ 138 people with an annual payroll exceeding $7.5 million.
The costs of constructing the hotel are estimated at $22 million and the 150 “locally sourced” construction jobs will generate a $7.9 million payroll, according to the Kessler prospectus.
A representative for the Healdsburg lodging industry acknowledged Thursday that more hotel rooms are probably needed during the peak summer months and busy weekends when “no vacancy” signs light up.
There are approximately 350 hotel rooms in Healdsburg representing 23 properties — including bed and breakfast inns — inside city limits, according to Lucy Lewand, chairman of the tourism improvement district.
But she said the picture changes dramatically beginning the four months following Thanksgiving, when there are plenty of rooms available.
“We are always concerned about diluting the pie,” she said of the possibility of an oversupply of rooms from new hotels.
Lewand, who has seen the artistic renderings for Kessler’s proposed hotel, also has some misgivings about its scale and size.
“It’s too dense for our community,” she said. “It would really impact the downtown in a way most of us don’t feel would be too good. It looks like something over in Napa.”
The 59-foot tall hotel would require a zoning variance from City Hall to exceed the city’s 50-foot height limitation.
Kessler said the hotel with its large columns, crafted wrought iron, stone and stucco exterior “draws upon the grandeur and robust massing of Healdsburg’s European-influenced past.”
The project will be subject to change as it undergoes design review and public hearings before the Planning Commission and City Council.
The hotel company also has agreed to pay for the cost of an environmental impact report, according to Owen Smith, Kessler director of real estate development.
Parking is an issue that apparently has been worked out in a tentative development agreement with the city. During the summer, the City Council met at least twice in closed session to negotiate parking requirements for the project.
The hotel would occupy the site of a current private parking lot. Kessler plans to have 33 on-site parking spaces on the hotel’s ground level. It also had pledged $202,000 to create 37 new spaces at the city’s West Plaza parking lot about a block away.
In addition, the developer agreed to contribute $800,000 to a city fund to create or design more parking in the downtown.
(You can reach Staff Writer Clark Mason at 521-5214 or firstname.lastname@example.org.)