Friday, November 4, 2016

Napa Confidential: How resort hotels eat your town

              Guess who are the celebrity chefs
                                            The Private I
    Nose's citizen investigator lays out her argument concerning  St. Helena. 

     I was contacted by someone who said they were filing a public corruption complaint and sought history of ownership of these hotels, and "who would have known  what" who are elected officials or serve our city government. In other words, who are the insiders in these plans. The best I can come up with is City Attorney who was also City Attorney for Calistoga when it brought in a "stealth" project.  Like St. Helena, Calistoga also prohibits brand/chain/formula operations.  That not only applies to the visible "sign out there" but to the management of an operation as these international operators provide unfair competition to existing businesses.  When our economy melted down, it was no picnic for our many inn and hotel owners before any new businesses were introduced about 2010.  Existing businesses hadn't begun to recover.
    Somehow these resort hotel aspirants for both Calistoga and St. Helena have been coached about the General Plans and told to "come in below the radar, describe themselves as private development firms, not mention they are major brand operations, get approvals, and the cities are then stuck with the deals."
    It appears to me that Las Alcobas is one of those inside deals.  The approval for the project which was to include 20 on-site rooms for employees was both sold and changed.  I know Mayor Galbraith was directly involved in that from what he boasted in March 2015 that was reported in the local newspaper about $700/night rooms and 70% occupancy. That's not something you get in the first year as an independent start-up already facing competition at that price point from Carneros Inn and Meadowood.  And the City's budget doesn't reflect 70%.  But these people, perhaps attorney and mayor and it could be another member of the City Council, knew it would be a successful brand-managed operation with a loyalty program as to Las Alcobas. When ownership of that project was changed, the Planning Commission was never consulted about this, only about parking on Main Street, not that this is part of an international chain. The changes were made by the Mayor and City Council when Las Alcobas bought out the previously-approved project.   And now that the cat is out of the bag, one can Google Las Alcobas St. Helena and come up with Starwood as the manager, voila.  It violates our General Plan, just as Kelly Foster's Bald Mountain Development for both Calistoga and St. Helena are Four Seasons and has violated Calistoga's General Plan.  About 50% of Four Seasons is owned by a Saudi Prince.
    Kelly Foster recently said Four Seasons doesn't have a "loyalty program," though Starwood does, and that program is good for 50% occupancy from inception.  That's in Starwood's annual report, since it is a public corporation.  Private investors my foot!  It appears more like to Mexican national fronts with minority interests in the resort.
    In addition to what's now here, all three respondents to the City's Request for Proposals are brand operations, as HMS noted it would be a five star brand operation in earlier literature, while HRV (that includes John Pritzker and Koch with Hall Financial Group providing some financing) is a brand operation through Prtizker who has an international operation as Commune which manages hotels.
    If Ted Hall proposes a resort, I doubt he's be starting it up from scratch.  It would likely be brand-managed.  This isn't the type of project one normally engages in after retirement.  Are we to believe that?  It would be another brand/chain/formula.
    Look up John Pritzker on Wiki online.  
    Las Alcobas is a brand operation, Bald Mountain would be a Four Seasons brand operation, HMS has said it is a five-star (brand), "Rosewood" has been bantied, another brand, and HRV is brand via management (Pritzker-Commune).  It makes no difference what the local shingle says, these are all "formula" or "brand" operators.  All of them violate the General Plan.
    These are not the types of hotels that "grab people off the streets, pulls them out of their cars, and encourages them to stay the night," not at these price points of $700/night or close to it.  These are destinations in themselves, adding more traffic to three already "F-rated" intersections (CalTrans grades) in Napa, two of them gateways to St. Helena, and to the low- rated Hwy. 29 and overtaxed Main Street corridor, and now failed intersections in St. Helena.
    They are like "The Wine Train," with immediate international advertising at their fingertips, the latest new thing to do in Napa Valley, stay at a luxury resort.  One of the Hall's operations on Napa River is even an occasional grand prize on a morning game show program, where the storyboard shows a view of the river from a room atop which rests a bottle of Hall wine.

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