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Tuesday, January 06, 2009

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