The standoff over hotel development in downtown Healdsburg is returning this week to the City Council, which is set to take up a disputed proposal put forward by lodging opponents that would effectively block future projects in an area surrounding the central plaza.
The issue, part of a broader debate over the cost and benefit of Wine County tourism for Healdsburg residents, stems in part from the recent multi-million-dollar sale of three downtown commercial properties that high-end developer David Wilhelm eyed for a potential hotel.
Three residents opposing the idea banded together in a group called Residents for Balance Downtown and have pressed their claim that any additional downtown hotels would diminish Healdsburg’s small-town charm.
“We feel it’s reached a tipping point,” said Bruce Abramson, a 28-year Healdsburg resident, part-time mortgage broker and one of the group’s founders. “This plaza and the downtown are the crown jewels of our community that everybody loves. We’re concerned that this can be eroded, the small-town look and feel, if there are more hotels built.”
Craig Ramsey, a longtime tech executive and Shiloh Estates resident outside of Santa Rosa, is the new owner of the two downtown parking lots after spending $7.5 million on them in September. The purchase also includes an adjacent building with five commercial spaces that includes the One World Fair Trade gift shop and Copperfield’s Book’s.
While Ramsey maintains a business relationship on the properties with Wilhelm, who developed the exclusive Mayacama Golf Club and nearby home sites, he said it’s “highly unlikely” a hotel will eventually be built in the parking area. Instead, he intends to improve the look of the lots — possibly in collaboration with the city — and has also entered into a partnership with local restaurateur Dustin Valette for a new dining spot in three of the five plaza-facing spaces. Copperfield’s and kitchenware store Plaza Gourmet would remain while the One World gift shop and Fabrications fabric store would relocate to make room.
“We’re trying to create something that people can go in and have dinner and spend $25 — not $200 or $300,” said Ramsey, who previously owned a vineyard in Healdsburg. “I’m not a developer, I’m a software person — I’m not interested in putting in a hotel. I have zero interest.”
Healdsburg, a city of about 12,000 people, and one of Wine Country’s hottest destinations, will have about 180 hotel rooms in the downtown corridor once all current projects are completed, according to the Healdsburg tourism improvement district. That’s on top of 245 rooms that exist in others parts of the city. An additional 430 rooms are in the works across four more projects at various stages of construction or planning outside of the plaza district — making for a grand total of roughly 850 hotel rooms.
The citizen group, co-founded by residents Chris Herrod and Gail Jonas, seeks to prevent any future hotel construction in the 3-by-4 block downtown area through changes to the code. On the suggestion of Councilman Joe Naujokas, the council will take up the idea in its chambers Monday at 5 p.m.. At stake are two central questions: Whether the city should require future hotels in the plaza district to obtain an added layer of approval, or if banning them altogether makes sense.