Proposed Hotel-Conference Center Could Be Huge Revenue Generator for the City

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Proposed Hotel Conference center on Richards
Proposed Hotel Conference center on Richards

On Tuesday, the Davis City Council resumes its work after a six-week summer break. Council will be asked to approve an ordinance to increase the intensity and height of an allowed hotel on West Olive Drive and Richards Boulevard – the proposed Embassy Suites.

The proposed hotel-conference center on Richards Blvd. would replace the existing single-story 43-room University Inn and Suites Hotel and Caffé Italia restaurant with a new six-story 132-room hotel, including a +/-4,000 sf restaurant and 18,400 sf conference center. The existing structures would be demolished and the site would be cleared for the new expanded use.

The proposed project is expected to be a huge revenue generator for the city. Just 50 percent occupancy of the 89 net new rooms at $130 per night would generate approximately $200,000 per year in transient occupancy tax for the City General Fund, plus an additional $40,000 for the Yolo County Visitors Bureau.

Staff writes, “A preliminary market analysis was commissioned by the Redevelopment Agency in 2012. The analysis concluded that the conference facility would be expected to increase occupancy at other local hotels, contributing to additional TOT [transient occupancy tax] and YCVB revenues. The construction valuation of $37,000,000 would increase total property tax obligation by approximately $300,000; the City’s $27% share would be approximately $82,000 per year.”

Staff notes, “The intensity of the proposed project is higher than that anticipated in the Gateway / Olive Drive Specific Plan. However, the use of the property as a hotel remains consistent with plan assumptions.”

They add, “The additional hotel rooms and new conference facility will generate economic vitality downtown, support local retailers and restaurants, generate room-nights for other hoteliers, and serve conference and visitor needs of UC Davis and local businesses.”

However, given the overall congestion, the proposal has generated a series of questions about traffic. The primary vehicular access for the existing hotel is from Richards Blvd. There will be a secondary vehicle access provided through a driveway at the west end of Olive Drive.

The city staff report notes that the proposed hotel would maintain a Richards Blvd. access, and enhance the Olive Drive access for vehicles as well as for pedestrians and cyclists heading to the Putah Creek Parkway, UC Davis, and downtown.

The city contracted with Fehr and Peers Transportation Consultants to conduct a traffic analysis of the hotel conference center proposal.

According to staff, “The project proposes a set of improvements to Richards Boulevard to channelize vehicle traffic and provide additional direction to drivers and cyclists on how to traverse the corridor.”

These include a median separator that would “prevent left turns across Richards Boulevard into and from the hotel, gas station, or other uses between Interstate 80 and Olive Drive. This will reduce both risk of collision and ‘messiness’ of movements within the corridor. This median was requested by Caltrans during its technical review, and is also a mitigation measure identified in the traffic study.”

They further recommend “reconfiguration of the Richards/Olive intersection to more comfortably allow U-turns from northbound to southbound Richards, in lieu of left turns.” Finally they suggest “green paint identifying bicycle lanes and conflict areas.”

Fehr and Peers reached several conclusions. First, Fehr & Peers assumed bicycling and walking would be the mode for 10 percent of trips. This is in contrast to the current mode share of 19 percent of morning peak hour trips and 29 percent of evening peak hour trips.

Staff notes that many regional trips are likely to be by vehicle, but the city’s and hotelier’s goal is that hotel guests park once and use bicycles or walk to destinations within Davis.

They find that all intersections will operate at LOS D (Level of Service D) or better during the AM and PM peak hours under the “existing plus project” scenario. LOS D means “approaching unstable flow. Speeds slightly decrease as traffic volume slightly increase. Freedom to maneuver within the traffic stream is much more limited and driver comfort levels decrease.”

In their analysis, “‘cumulative plus project’ conditions, assuming General Plan build-out (but not Nishi or the Innovation Center proposals), the Richards/Research Park/Cowell intersection would decline to LOS F for PM peak, with or without the hotel, but project traffic would not be a significant contributor to this decline.”

They continue, “During the PM peak hour, some downtown intersections would continue to operate at LOS F (as is allowed by the General Plan within the Core Area and the Richards/Olive area) but the project would not have a significant contribution to any deteriorated conditions. Similar conclusions were made for the ‘cumulative plus Measure R plus project’ analysis, which included Nishi Gateway and the innovation center proposals.”

Level of Service F means “forced or breakdown flow. Every vehicle moves in lockstep with the vehicle in front of it, with frequent slowing required. Travel time cannot be predicted, with generally more demand than capacity.”

They add, “The project would not have a significant effect on freeway operations.”

Finally they find that the proposed on-site parking would be “adequate to serve the hotel at 85 percent occupancy and a conference of 115 on-site attendees.” However, “Events that will generate more than 115 off-site attendees will likely require valet parking to an off-site lot, in addition to requiring employees to park off-site or arrive by non-auto modes. Staff notes that conference attendees staying in other Davis hotels will have shuttles and bicycles as options to driving to the facility.”

In summary – the staff suggest that the hotel will generate significant revenue for the city, and it will provide a place for large conferences which will also enhance the downtown.

On the downside however, traffic on Richards Blvd. is not good right now and, with anticipated changes, it will get worse with or without the Hotel-Conference Center.

Staff believes, “Based on the recommendations of the traffic analysis, staff has concluded that the improvements proposed as part of the project are sufficient to mitigate impacts to a less-than-significant level.”

There is an anticipated corridor plan, but that will not be implemented until at least 2020.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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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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9 thoughts on “Proposed Hotel-Conference Center Could Be Huge Revenue Generator for the City”

  1. sisterhood

    “green paint identifying bicycle lanes and conflict areas.”

    Tucson has green bike lanes and they work well. It would be even better if a slight barrier could be built to separate cars & bikes/pedestrians, but that may be cost prohibitive.

  2. Alan Pryor

    In a recent article in the Vanguard discussing the 2 large planned innovation centers in Davis (Neishi and Mace), Council member Brett Lee assured the readers that all due diligence would be undertaken by City Staff and the Council to ensure the Innovation Projects were sustainable and well thought out:

    We must clearly identify and mitigate the negative aspects of a tech park.”…“Poor design is difficult to mitigate; therefore, any proposal must have a well thought out design that includes planning best practices with a heavy emphasis on sustainability.

    Unfortunately, such a thoughtful approach has not been followed by City Staff with respect to the newly proposed massive 170,000 sq. ft Conference Center for Richards Blvd and Olive Dr. Although this project has been discussed conceptually for many years, numerous false starts by the project applicants have delayed its presentation to the community. All of a sudden, though, applicant presented a new project plan earlier this year which has been accepted by Staff with virtually no changes or broad community outreach. With scarcely any contact with or input from the City’s broad and diverse sustainable and bicycling communities, the Conference Center proposal has been presented to and approved by the Planning Commission in July, and will be before the Council for environmental and entitlement approval this coming Tuesday. Nor has any project of this size ever before been put on such a fast track approval process without any input by other City Commissions.

    Because almost this entire process has occurred during the summer while Council was not in session, this huge game-changing project is on the verge of being approved by the City Council with virtually no public engagement or review. To my knowledge, this project has NOT been reviewed by any other City Commission as to it true sustainability (the responsibility of the NRC), it’s financial impacts on the City (the responsibility of the Budget and Finance Commission), or the potentially catastrophic impacts of traffic on arguably the worst intersection in the City (the purview of the Traffic and Bicycle Safety Commission). Nor have any of the City’s green building advocates focused on (or are even aware of) the project because their entire efforts have focused on the new EIRs out for the Neishi and Mace projects.

    Perhaps this almost complete lack of outreach by Staff and community engagement would not be so bad if the Conference Center project was truly sustainable and traffic impacts did not have the potential to completely grid-lock the Richards Blvd/ Olive Drive intersection and virtually shut-down traffic flow into and out-of down town through the Richards Blvd. rail under-crossing. However, in my opinion this entire project is woefully short on energy-saving features and represents a huge step backwards in the City’s climate control efforts. Despite Staff’s efforts otherwise to green-wash this project, the project has not even been given a cursory analysis of the climate changing impacts of this so-called “sustainable” project.

    And it also appears that the traffic analysis makes completely unsubstantiated and illogical assumptions such that the most adverse traffic impacts are completely underestimated and therefore, not mitigated as otherwise claimed.

    Further, rather that fully presenting this project to the community in a thoughtful and deliberate process, this proposed project has been pushed through almost to approval in a summer – stealth campaign mode by Staff to gain quick Council approval with virtually no independent citizen review of the very serious traffic impacts and the almost complete lack of sustainable features in the project.

    The Council should quickly reject this proposal and send it to the NRC, the Budget and Finance commission, and the Traffic and Bicycle Safety Commissions as would normally be the case with almost any project of this size. Failure to do so will almost certainly generate serious questions as to whether Staff and the Council are fully committed to the sustainability and transparency objectives otherwise espoused by Council.

    Faith in our Council and Staff to impose the will of the community on new large projects is a critical component in getting the citizens of Davis to approve the two new Innovation Parks proposed for Measure J/R votes in the City next year. If the public does not feel that Staff and Council truly hold the principles of sustainability and transparency dear now, it is unlikely that the public will trust the City to responsibly manage the Neishi and Mace projects in the future which does not bode well for the Measure J/R vote. It would be indeed unfortunate if these larger projects would killed by a lack of trust in the City generated as a result of a rushed and quick approval of the Conference Center Project.

      1. Davis Progressive

        i think you make a good point – there is nothing that is really being rushed through.  however, i would say there is some proposals that need more work and the condition of richards blvd has to be top of the list.

  3. Tia Will

    Alan

    As someone who travels this route from Old East Davis to South Sac by car or on foot almost daily, I am in complete agreement with the need for an extensive review of the traffic impacts on this highly congested intersection at Richards and Olive and the almost equally impacted 1 St Street.

  4. ecotect

    Have we become programmed to like gridlock?  Is it just part of life now?  Is it “freedom” to sit one-person in a car going 4.5 mph while the clock ticks off moments of our lives?

    Is it fun and safe to ride your bike down the Richards corridor? Or walk?

    How many hotel conference centers do we really need in our small city?  Are there really so many conferences? Do they really pencil?

    Does the traffic study look at the I-80 corridor holistically and does it take into consideration population growth?  Does it look into the future?

    Has the Davis Planning Department looked at the Richards area as a system and looked at sustainability & resiliency? Has a stocks and flows study been done with knowledge of the territory understanding the boundaries between cities and surroundings that are ever changing?

    Is this major development part of a comprehensive, integrated, holistic Master Plan for Davis?

    Transportation is secondary to other planning.  Cities should not be designed around transportation–transportation should be a tool in a well conceived Master Plan.

    Cities need Master Urban System Planning that results in development seen through the eyes of life-cycle management and population density. Urban design needs to be revisited and renovated fundamentally to build toward a higher level of sustainability – is it sustainable to be stuck in gridlock in your car for hours and hours of your life?  Can pedestrian movement and bike movement be elevated as the preferred mode of transportation in Davis?

    City planning needs to have awareness of how to design to the environment, supply flows, spatial quality relative to the stocks and flows of capital and quality of life.

    What happened to architectural standards?  Do we really want this unattractive, status quo, old design for a mid-rise hotel in such a prominent position?  What are the sustainability goals for the hotel? Hotels use a lot of water and energy and a lot of deliveries – how does that affect our City at this crucial time?

    Old ways of thinking and acting need to be replaced with new patterns than have much more information, that look at the big picture, that project into the future and that are highly sustainable and resilient. It is time for a new model.  It is time for serious planning into the future with livability and not just “business-as-usual” arbitrary growth that lacks big picture urban systems planning.

  5. TrueBlueDevil

    New to this discussion, but it seems like we way underserving the need for alumni, visiting professors, business leaders, and out-of-town guests. Not to mention graduation exercises, visiting sports teams, etc. My guess is that there are a whole lot of families that have to chose options in neighboring cities. I would imagine a higher occupancy rate than 50%.

    What is the city’s base budget now? (I’m trying to figure how much a $300,000+ a year impact has.)

    I do agree with Alan that this design is cold and doesn’t meld with a university / agricultural town. I think this makes it tougher to accept, it is cold and evokes no warmth. It needs to be softened up.

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