Thursday, February 9, 2017

In the last resort (Koch brothers, et al)

                                                     Dispatch: St. Helena
                                         The Private I

     The city of St. Helena, Napa County, put out a Request for Proposals for resorts/hotels to be developed on city properties, basically saying "we're broke and we need to do this." There was a special city council meeting back in October, when several plans were revealed. One was by the HRV group mentioned in an earlier dispatch which included investors John Pritzker (formerly Hyatt Hotels), proprietor of his own international hotel management company, Commune, and the Koch brothers.
    Providing construction financing was, once again, Hall Structured Finance. They all hoped to develop a three-story 85 room hotel overlooking St. Helena's Main Street and our city's Lyman Park, using the site of our current police department and city hall and extending a block eastward to append our fire department and eliminate parking spaces for our volunteer fire fighters. (
     Residents were quite shocked by this one. Even though we don't permit "brand" or "formula" operations, HRV had the audacity to invest quite a sum in sketches of what this might look like. That's not you swimming in a public pool (below) but guests at a luxury resort enjoying what is essentially co-oped public space on the right. 

     I suppose some people view themselves as so privileged they can ignore the law at every level. As a St. Helena resident I have little doubt that they believed they had some type of political cover.
    This project effectively went away when State Parks weighed in with a letter to the city invoking their authority under U.S. Department of Interior to remind the city our Lyman Park is in fact a State Park. The city adopted  a resolution last month recognizing this and agreeing, among other things, not to limit access to the park. This effectively killed the Hall-related project which would have blocked off one entire side of the park. In the proposal HRV Hotel Partners refers to St. Helena as "our town." 
    Not kidding.

    With the change in the city council we now have Mary Koberstein and Geoff Ellsworth replacing at least one pro-resort council member, and with Paul Dohring there is a good chance the other two projects proposed for our Adams Street property will also go away. This is thanks to a law disallowing council members who intend to represent their resident constituents.
    There are any number of issues beginning to surface about water and its availability down the road, so I think the council will be much more cautious and will recognize our no growth initiative and General Plan to put a halt to this nonsense of trying to develop four or five hotels. Peculiar things have been happening in the water rates area, but let's see if any news comes out about this.

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