Long before construction began on his plan to remake the site of Healdsburg’s former post office with a butcher shop and cafe, Pete Seghesio said his building would make a statement —create a splash — at the prominent downtown location a block from the town Plaza.
The nearly complete Healdsburg Meat Co. building with its columned facade and detailed cornice work is certainly getting attention. But after a slew of last-minute changes made outside the public eye, including the addition of an ultra, high-end restaurant, it’s not necessarily the kind he had in mind.
The revisions, which include the elite restaurant and luxurious hotel suites to replace a smaller cafe and extended stay rooms, have sparked complaints, put Seghesio on the defensive and prompted the mayor to write a long public letter explaining what happened.
It has also added fuel to an ongoing debate over Healdsburg’s identity — whether tourism is increasingly outweighing the needs of local residents, making it a town that caters more to gourmets who can afford the $200-per-person cost of the new restaurant.
The cork-colored building — just under the city’s 50-foot maximum height allowance — is a commanding presence, occupying the site where the post office stood for four decades before it was lost to fire in 2010.
For Seghesio, 50, it was a way to bring back some of the tall, stylish Healdsburg buildings of old. “That was what we wanted to build — not just a meat company — but we wanted to build a great building. I believe that’s what we’ve done,” he said.
The fact that the Healdsburg Meat Co. building sits on the site of the lost post office, a former everyday gathering spot for the general public, has heightened people’s sensitivity.
Critics say a cherished community gathering place is being replaced by a restaurant for the “1 percent.”
“We probably don’t need another restaurant we can’t afford,” said Jack Anderson, a Healdsburg health care consultant and passer-by whose opinion was polled last week. “That said, Cyrus did well,” he said of the acclaimed two-star, Michelin-rated Healdsburg restaurant that closed in 2012, following a high-profile legal dispute with the landlord.
But some say they like the building, even if the restaurant is out of their price range.
“It’s better than the ramshackle old post office,” said Healdsburg resident Barry Maclure as he eyed the new building with approval. “It will add to Healdsburg, but I can’t afford it — the high-cost meals.”
He plans, however, to shop at the adjacent butcher shop on the ground floor when it opens, now estimated to occur in September or October.
Some have described the building in the pages of the weekly Healdsburg Tribune as an “out-of-scale monster,” while others defend it as thoughtfully designed, reflecting the historical attributes of Healdsburg, not only for its style, but its resemblance to the tall imposing building that occupied the same spot in the late 1800s.
But it’s the plans for the inside of the building that really stoked the debate. After rumors last fall that a top-notch chef might be moving into the space, Seghesio in January confirmed that superstar chef Kyle Connaughton and his farmer wife would be opening a Michelin-worthy restaurant there, dubbed Single Thread Farms Restaurant and Inn.