In September 2015, the council voted 5-0 to approve an Embassy Suites Hotel Conference center on Richards Blvd. However, the project was almost immediately sued on CEQA and traffic concerns, and once the suit was settled, the newly emerging proposed hotel was greatly reduced in size.
The proposal passed in 2015 was for 132 guestrooms with an 18,000 foot conference center. By July 2017, Richards Hotel was down to about 110 rooms, with only 6500 square feet of meeting room area – no longer would it be a conference center.
There are several different issues that the city has sought to address through hotels. The first is that the city simply has not had sufficient quality hotel room supply. As the 2015 PKF study puts it, “the Davis market is currently leaking hotel demand due to a lack of higher end offerings and/or due to a lack of extended stay offerings. Depending on the market segments targeted by a given hotel project, new hotels included in the innovation park projects may capture currently unmet demand without affecting demand available to support existing hotels.”
The city has attempted to rectify this problem through primarily three projects. First, the aforementioned hotel now know as Richards Hotel will be an increase of 65 rooms from the current 45 room University Park Inn. Second, they approved the four-story, 120-room Marriott Residence Inn along 2nd and Mace which is currently being constructed.
Finally, the council in 2017 approved the Hyatt House Hotel along Cowell Blvd, near Davis Diamonds which is also 120 rooms. That hotel was stalled by litigation, but that as since been settled and ground will break perhaps as soon as January on that project.
In total then, the city has added over 200 rooms. That represents a notable increase from the 731 rooms that existed in Davis in late 2015 (which included the 127 room Hyatt Place at UC Davis) – but some of those hotel rooms are not suitable for higher end clientele, such as the Motel 6 and its 103 rooms in South Davis.
The second issue is revenue. The PKF Consulting study from 2015 projected that four new hotels could generate between $1.5 and $2 million in new revenue for the city just by themselves. Transient Occupancy Tax (TOT) goes directly to the community, with no required tax-sharing with other jurisdictions.
In June 2016, 63.8 percent of Davis voters voted to increase the city’s Transient Occupancy Tax from 10 percent to 12 percent. City officials estimated that just that increase would generate around $240,000 a year in additional revenue and it would put the city in line with other communities in the area. That additional revenue was prior to any added hotels.
The one thing we have not addressed in this regard is the need for a large scale conference space. The city of Davis really lacks sufficient meeting space in general. If you wanted to have an event with 400 to 500 people, which is really not a huge event, it is not clear where in town you could go.
UC Davis does have a conference center, but that would negate some of the advantages to having a large event in the community.
The staff report from 2015 notes: “The City and campus have a shortage of conference space. The City’s Veterans Memorial Center is aging and has minimal space for large meetings combined with workshops or breakout events.”
One of the hopes of putting the conference center at the current site of 1111 Richards was it was next to campus, close to the downtown, it would bring large groups of people to Davis. Because the conference center was larger than the hotel could accommodate, the thought was that people going to large conferences would have to stay at other nearby hotels.
Wrote the staff: “Because the conference space is oversized for the number of on-site hotel rooms, conferences are anticipated to bring guests to other hotels within Davis. Preliminary market analysis prepared by the City in 2012 indicated that this development would benefit other hoteliers.”
But between litigation, other costs and other issues, the hotel conference center has been scaled down. The meeting room space of 6500 might accommodate some events, but it is not going to be able to host large scale conferences.
Thus as we look to a possible Innovation Center at MRIC, we might consider putting a hotel conference there. EPS estimates that a hotel could generate around $700,000 in revenue at MRIC by itself.
The advantages to the hotel/ conference center at MRIC is it would bring visiting scholars potentially into the space. UC Davis could host larger conferences at MRIC rather than having to rely on their more limited facilities on campus. Furthermore, as EPS points out: “hotel/conference uses provide important meeting places available for industry events.”
For instance, I just received an invite from UC Davis to attend the World Agri-Tech Innovation Summit which will take place in San Francisco on March 19-20, 2019.
“The 2019 World Agri-Tech Innovation Summit, being held in San Francisco, March 19-20, is an international conference, bringing together more than 1,000 innovators, companies, and investors to explore innovation and translational research impact in the agri-food sector. Several of the preliminary speakers announced will be participating as part of the research impact stream within the conference program on Monday March 19, that has been organized by UC Davis.”
But here is the key point: UC Davis is the primary conference Research Partner and here they are holding the conference in San Francisco. Perhaps they want to have the conference in San Francisco anyway. But maybe if we had a large scale conference center, in the future, they could have such a conference in Davis near the campus instead? That way they could showcase their campus to the world.
Right now, neither the city nor the university could host such a large conference.
The Richards Blvd. location had both advantages and disadvantages. The advantage of course is walking distance from campus and the downtown, so someone could park at the newly built garage and then not have to drive again. But the traffic issues were of concern as were space limitations.
Having a Hotel Conference Center at MRIC would avoid the space limitations and parking concerns. There is another hotel across the street being built that would have 120 rooms. There are not a lot of restaurants nearby however – but perhaps, the building of the Innovation Center would encourage restaurants along Second Street and on Chiles or perhaps some would be built on MRIC itself.
We have a world class university and it is a shame that they have limited facilities to host world class conference like the world Agri-Tech Innovation Summit.
—David M. Greenwald reporting