City Can Better Utilize Hunt-Boyer Mansion with a Restaurant


Back in December, the city council met to decide the future reuse of the Dresbach-Hunt-Boyer Mansion. Currently city staff are located in that building, however, they will soon be relocated to other city facilities and the city now has the choice as to how to use the building.

The city hired a consultant to do a feasibility study and consider reuse options which were narrowed down to a restaurant or a visitor’s center. At the December 9, 2008 council meeting, the majority of the city council concurred with the staff report “that the visitor’s center concept is a better fit than a restaurant for this historic structure, as it would have the least physical impact on the building and would be far more economical to implement.” However, in a compromise, Councilmember Stephen Souza constructed a motion that would allow the city to at least test the restaurant option.

Unfortunately by putting out a RFP (Request for Proposal) for only two months during these economic times may not be doing far enough in terms of actually allowing a potential restaurant owner to use the site. The feasibility study identified a number of challenges with the proproposed restaurant.

The bottom line was:

“While the report acknowledges that the location is ideal for a restaurant and the building’s ambience would make for an elegant dining experience, the architect also determined that this use would require significant modifications and cost to accomplish.”

Challenges include the following:

“The most logical place for the kitchen would be in the rear (southeast corner) of building with seating in the front rooms and upstairs. The typical restaurant would utilize approximately half of its square footage in kitchen space. The first floor is approximately 1330 square feet total. Loading would need to come from the rear (south) side of the building. The feasibility architect calls for an elevator inside the building. The Building Official believes that if similar spaces are provided on both floors an elevator could be avoided. The kitchen would need hood venting out the walls and roof of the building. A trash enclosure and grease storage/inceptor would need to be added in the vicinity of the building.”

As a result of these challenges and the costs associated with them, the city staff went with the visitor’s center option.

From the staff report, here’s the central argument for the Visitor’s center information:

“Several entities, including the city’s Promotions staff, downtown redevelopment staff, the Davis Downtown Business Association, the Davis Farmers Market, the Davis Chamber of Commerce, UC Davis and the Yolo Conference and Visitors Bureau regularly interact and partner to promote the downtown and the broader community. Each entity has a distinct purpose and personality, yet functions often overlap.

The concept for a Community Events and Visitor Information Center is to consolidate as many providers/promoters of community events, information, and attractions in one location. Ideally, a consolidated location would provide information about events, attractions and lodging; maps of the community and campus; a calendar of events; a small retail section of Davis/UC Davis/Yolo goods; ticket sales; and offices for the several of the organizations primarily responsible for promoting Davis. Unlike the traditional visitor’s center model, this co-location of Davis resources would serve as a central resource for Davis residents seeking information/tickets for local (City/Campus/County) events in addition to being a location for visitors to the community to get information. The benefit to the groups in the building would be shared resources and information, resulting in more efficient use of resources and successful collaborations. The benefit to the city would be increases in participation in local and regional events and spill over business activity.”

From our standpoint, the Visitor’s Center makes little sense in this particular location. The idea that these entities have shared functions is acknowledged, but that doesn’t seem to require (a) the same location and (b) more importantly this particular location.

The visitor’s center might be utilized by people who come from out of town to visit Davis, perhaps, but a restaurant would attract people not only from the city but also from out of town. Moreover, a restaurant would bring much needed tax revenue to the city.

While we acknowledge the current limitations of the building, the city actually has a pretty decent option in terms of making the upgrades necessary. The city estimates such costs would be between $750,000 and $1 million. However, due to the much higher rent the city could charge a restaurant as opposed to office usage they could offset those costs over a 10 to 15 year period by taking around 80% of the rent and paying off the costs while using 20% as the revenue the city would get from a visitor’s center.

The restaurant has much to offer Davis. It seems a shame frankly to waste such a nice and attractive location on more offices. A high restaurant could provide fine food and dining experiences that Davis lacks at the moment. Moreover, if done properly the restaurant could have a more modest lunch menu that would cator to the university crowd during the day. The location could allow for both food and some sort of entertainment as well.

The city appears to be selling its property short by going for the quick fix in terms of a visitor’s center. However, and this is part of the issue at hand, the city would need to be patient in terms of finding the proper suitor given the current economic downturn. However, the upside would be enormous and it is not like the building is being properly utilized at this moment.

The model would be to look at something like Bistro 33 and imagine the amount of revenue and the dining experience an upscale restaurant would bring to that part of Davis while adaptively reusing an historic building.

To me, the choice seems obvious, but the council to this point in time seems inclined to go another direction.

—David M. Greenwald reporting


About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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35 thoughts on “City Can Better Utilize Hunt-Boyer Mansion with a Restaurant”

  1. Mike Hart

    Sounds like some of the staff wants a nicer office. I disagree with the staff conclusions as I think that they are self-serving.The facility would make a great restaurant at the cost identified- but it would make an epic bar at a fraction of the cost. No grease interceptor, and with comparable facilities upstairs and down, there is no need for an elevator.Think Fanny Ann’s Saloon in Old Sacramento…

  2. Anonymous

    The city can make this location a Visitors Center(if there are no significant renovation costs)designating it as a temporary measure and continue to promote it for commercial business use. It will probably take 3-5 years for the economy to turn around sufficiently to attract private commercial interest.

  3. Rich Rifkin

    …Unfortunately by putting out a RFP (Request for Proposal) for only two months during these economic times may not be doing far enough in terms of actually allowing a potential restaurant owner to use the site….Last month, I suggested to Bill Emlen that he should instead offer a large commission — say two months rent (~$17,000) — to any local real estate agent who can get a deal done. If no agent can find interest after 3 months, then (at least in this economy) there is no interest.Keep in mind that the mansion is not restaurant ready. It will take a LOT of money and a lot of time to build out, including a full kitchen with a restaurant exhaust system, a grease interceptor, additional electrical power, a new HVAC system, a fire sprinkler system, new bathrooms, an elevator, perhaps a rebuild of the staircase and other changes to the interior …hardening… it for the heavy load of a restaurant.If no restaurant is found now, that does not mean that a few years from now, in better economic times, someone might not be interested. My suspicion is no one could finance that build out presently.

  4. Rich Rifkin

    …Sounds like some of the staff wants a nicer office. I disagree with the staff conclusions as I think that they are self-serving….Mike, I’m not sure why you think that. The offices in the DBH are the nicest the city has. City staff will be leaving these nice offices soon for much more mundane offices. The motivation for getting staff out of the DBH — whatever its ultimate use — is to generate some income from the mansion, not to upgrade staff accommodations.

  5. Mike Hart

    I agree that Davis needs a highly visible visitor’s center. The most appropriate kind of thing for passing out maps, brochures and giving advice is not in a historic Victorian mansion set-back from the street requiring you park (somewhere…) and find your way in for a map.The most appropriate place for a visitor center is a kiosk on the curb as you come up the street with a couple of 5 minute parking spaces in front of it. It should be highly visible, accessible and easy to staff with one person.Great location for a bar though…

  6. Anonymous

    It just doesn’t seem like a restaurant to me. Also, I don’t know why, in this poor economy, there is the argument that we should not develop in certain areas of town yet some of the same people support a new restaurant in this space when restaurants have such a huge failure rate. Visitor’s Center is the right choice. There’s plenty of ways to make money renting it out as a space.

  7. PRED Old Timer

    A visitors center? A quick jump to Davis Wiki is all anyone needs. I’m not going into the viability of a higher-end restaurant in the current downturn. It’s pretty self evident. But a restaurant makes even less sense in that location and like Rich pointed out, good luck getting the investment capitol to make happen in the next few years. If a restaurant were to look like it could survive, there is plenty of ground floor CRE currently used as retail that will being coming available that would be so much more attractive and it would have to compete with those.

  8. Rich Rifkin

    One thing to keep in mind: the plan is to relocate the tankhouse (presently located where Mishka’s Cafe will go, west of the Varsity) to the west side of the mansion, right on E Street.The current idea is that, after the orange grove is ripped out and the myrtle tree on the west side of the mansion is removed, the tankhouse will be jacked up and rolled through the DBH front yard and set down on a new foundation in its new location with its door facing west (to E Street). …The most appropriate place for a visitor center is a kiosk on the curb as you come up the street with a couple of 5 minute parking spaces in front of it….Once the tankhouse is rebuilt there, I think that would be a good …kiosk… for visitors to pick up brochures, maps, directions, tickets to events, and so on. UCD wants to have a spot in downtown where someone could buy a ticket to any of its events (which of course can now be done on-line, too), and that could be done out of the tankhouse. Further, if the city has knick-knacks it wants to sell (t-shirts, mugs, etc.), they could be sold out of the tankhouse.

  9. Sue Greenwald

    David,I wish this topic hadn’t come up on a council day, because I don’t have time for a comprehensive post. Hopefully, we can discuss this again soon.But in short, unfortunately, there is unlikely to be a …temporary… DBA-Farmer’s Market, Yolo Visitor Bureau use: The Farmers’ Market has already said that they are not interested unless the move is permanent.Almost ten years ago, when I first got on the council, I suggested moving the city offices out of the Hunt-Boyer in order make better use of that fantastic building and its location.The Hunt-Boyer could be the landmark symbol for downtown Davis. Picture people entering town, and seeing this beautiful, historic building with people dining in the yard which wraps around 2nd and E streets, behind a low, wrought iron fence. Besides being a wonderful amenity for Davis citizens, it would be a magnificent visitor attraction.Located on I-80, we are in a fantastic position to attract diners and shoppers on their way to and from Tahoe. I know that I and many of my friends actually plan our week-end trips with Victorian cottage-style restaurants as a destination. I think it is hard to overestimate the attraction that this type of ambiance holds for vacationers.Burgers’ and Brew is currently one of our most popular restaurants, due in large part to the wonderful cottage ambiance. I believe that I similar restaurant, whether high end or medium-priced, would bring for more new business to Davis than it would draw from existing restaurants, because if it’s unusually picturesque qualities.Ideally, I would like to find a local restaurant owner with a less ideal location to move over to the Hunt-Boyer.In terms of rent, the city could make much more from a restaurant, even counting improvements.The plans that the architect drew up are terrific, and there is much more space than in our other successful cottage-style restaurants.It would be a tragedy to spend a decade getting the city offices out of that building, only to replace it with another under-use consisting of primarily offices.There are a growing number of vacancies downtown. If it is really so important for the Farmers’ Market, DBA and Yolo Visitor Attraction bureau have offices together, which was one of the rationals given, now is the time for them to rent a space together in an appropriate location, rather than monopolizing this prime piece of real estate. After all, they are supposed helping, not hurting, the vitality of our downtown.After ten years, it would be a tragic mistake to settle for the office use because we are now in the midst of a recession. After all, it took some time to find the right use for the historic city hall, but the Bistro 33 was worth the wait.On this prime site in this prime location, we need a real visitor attraction — not a visitor attraction …bureau….

  10. Rich Rifkin

    …After all, it took some time to find the right use for the historic city hall, but the Bistro 33 was worth the wait….One interesting bit of trivia about Bistro 33, which I think is the right paradigm for adaptive reuse, even if the timing is bad now for the DBH: The City of Davis did not …find… the owners of Bistro 33. Davis put out the usual RFP and got no interested restaurants (or at least none with a worthy proposal). Old City Hall was very close to becoming the bicycle museum or some such thing. But then, at the last possible moment, the owner of Bistro 33 happened to be in Davis and happened to walk by Old City Hall, asked what was going on (because he had no idea the City was seeking RFPs), and Bistro 33 then ended up making the offer which was accepted.What that story suggests to me is that our bureucratic system of attracting bids with RFP’s is the wrong system* for getting restaurants. Private businesses are generally not in the habit of fulfilling government contracts.Instead, we need to hire real estate agents, working on commission, to go out in the free market and find the right restaurateur.

  11. Rich Rifkin

    * Do you ever notice those very long and detailed …public notice… classified ads? Those often are RFPs. As far as I know, no one reads them. The companies which bid on government contracts (to do things like build parks and buildings or roads and bridges) are mostly not …free-market… companies. They usually do all of their business with the government and thus have the bureaucratic skills to win government contracts. Private enterprises which construct office buildings and shopping malls and houses and so on usually don’t ever bid on government projects — they are not equipped to deal with that much bureaucracy. (Some large contractors, of course, have two divisions: one that bids on government jobs and a separate one which operates in the market.)

  12. Anonymous

    Sue greenwald laments:that current plans to avoid Bistro 33-izing …only to replace it with another under-use consisting of primarily offices…. is somehow a tragic underutilization of one of the few interesting bits of architecture left in Davis.Bistro 33 is a monstrous lie, the remodel utterly erases the character and integrity of the original structure.And good ol’ developer lackey Sue wants to gut and turn the Hunt-Boyer mansion into another lie.I’ll bet she wants Ogridziak to do the revamp, hahaha: ugh!there’s already enough ugly buildings built upon the carcasses of origimal historic structures, leave the Hunt-Boyer the way it is…

  13. Anonymous

    …thanks anonymous 1/6/09 7:10am for …blog boy… … that’s a good one. He’s boyish in his desire to turn the Hunt-Boyer Mansion into another plastic cash cow, for sure.

  14. Sue Greenwald

    I would like to point out the a restaurant reuse is at least equally consistent with it’s history as office use. Historically, the house had a kitchen, served food and entertained.

  15. Pam Nieberg

    I completely agree with David and Sue on this. The Hunt Boyer Mansion would make a wonderful restaurant. I have been to a number of older towns where older homes/mansions have been converted to restaurants, and they are marvelous. I would love to see the Mansion become a restaurant. It would be completely wasted as a visitors center. What an opportunity we have here to turn this beautiful building, now used for offices (!) into something we could all enjoy and be proud of.Is there a committee forming to push this proposal? Count me in.Who in the world is the person who is calling Sue a developer lacky? Do you even know who Sue is? Developer lacky she is not.

  16. Mike Hart

    Okay, I am jumping on the bandwagon in earnest. I think that Sue and DPD have it right. Add to this concept of a restaurant, the idea of using the tank house as the visitor center, to mollify those who do not use the internet prior to visiting our town, and voila! We have a plan.However, let me add once again, we could do this for very little if we allow the developer to initially start with the facility as just a bar without a full kitchen. Developing the kitchen starts a whole chain-reaction of costs and needs for increased revenue that makes this more difficult.While I think the classic RFP process is not useful here, we do need to let people know that this lovely house is an option for a commercial enterprise. The city needs to kill the concept of a visitor center in the house, and promote the concept of a restaurant (or bar) there and see who surfaces!

  17. GJB

    Wow, I actually agree with both David and Sue! This is a rare occasion indeed!Who goes to visitor centers? Nobody. It’s a dumb idea, and doesn’t make economic sense compared to the restaurant option. End of discussion.

  18. Guest

    i’d be thrilled with a bar, teahouse, coffee shop or restaurant in that building. you can use the tankhouse as a flyer kiosk, or else rent some vacant storefront fora city visitor’s office if people really think there’s a need (i don’t).with the cafe going in next to the varsity, and sophia’s right across the street, that corner of downtown will have a fair amount of buzz. please don’t waste that space with something that doesn’t add to the life of downtown.

  19. Anonymous

    …Historically, the house had a kitchen, served food and entertained,… says Sue Greenwald.Which misses the point, being that the house was a private residence, not a commercial establishment. There is nothing sadder about walking around downtown Davis and seeing homes where families used to live taken over by shamelessly commercial enterprises, which usually clash horribly, designwise, with the original structures. One exception is the building in which Burgers and Brew is located which was remodeled with some feeling for the original structure through intelligent use of materials and fine craftsmanship which extended the original structure rather than simply slapping on prefab components.

  20. Anonymous

    What Gertrude Stein once said about Oakland, …There is no there there,… can now with sadness be increasingly applied to downtown Davis. The profit-driven makeover which Sue Greenwald enthusiastically supports and enables is almost complete, character has been nearly obliterated. When her associate Sinesa closes Mishka’s, refabrication of downtown Davis will be complete. The last place with any character — gone.And downtown Davis will be a mall without a roof. Call it Greenwald Acres, if they ever go so far as to put a roof on it.

  21. Anonymous

    Anonymous 11:56:I think you’re being more than a little melodramatic. Not to mention, I’m not exactly sure what you are getting at. It would help if you would articulate your own views a bit more and attack Sue a bit less, I think. You seem to have an axe to grind for no obvious reason.

  22. Anonymous

    The Hunt Boyer Mansion would be perfect if it was turned into a Tea Garden or something like that. I went to a place in Botswana Africa. It was called the Sanitas Tea Garden. It was an out door type deal and was located within a plant nursery. Seems like an odd place, but it had a great charm and feel to it. There was an indoor option. I think the mansion and its surroundings would make a great tea garden. An even better place for a tea garden with out door cooking, light sandwiches, gourmet tea and coffee, pastries and the like would be outside Borders books and music. It’s a beautiful outdoor scape, complete with an out door braai, waterfall and diverse plant life. It would be perfect for a tea garden. I can’t believe Border’s hasn’t capitalized on that space. The Design house also has the perfect out door old world charm garden. All it needs is a lite menu, a place for the kids to play while the mum’s and/dad’s chat and sip tea after school. Oh dahhling. How delightful.

  23. beer museum

    Mike Hart said……Sounds like some of the staff wants a nicer office….Are you kidding? Have you seen the staff offices at Hunt-Boyer? Nice!…Think Fanny Ann’s Saloon in Old Sacramento……Well, I prefer to think of any of the McMenamins in Oregon or Washington, but why not a Bicycle Museum / Davis History Museum. Then make Hattie Weber a bar. I think the residents of that part of Davis would love to see a bar at the Hattie Weber site. Brad Schaffer especially!

  24. the number of the bistro

    Anonymous said:…Bistro 33 is a monstrous lie, the remodel utterly erases the character and integrity of the original structure….True be that. The aesthetic of Beastro 666 is totally anti-retro and anti-reuse. The belong in a sheik metal place with long windows. A fire pit out side and green welded gates all surrounding a totally paved over patio with no natural space? C’mon- the place looks absolutely horrid compared to the architecture of the building. They really did not work with the feeling that was already there- they brought their own aesthetic and made the best of it, instead of bringing out some character. I’m glad it is a successful business, but to point out the transformation of the building as a success is totally dishonest.

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