Hotel opens for business

Winters Hotel welcomed its first guests during a soft opening last week.

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Two out-of-towners, Matt Gallimore and Levi Cox, joked over a beer after checking in a bit too early for one the first-ever stays at Hotel Winters. “They are so new they didn’t even have a lightbulb in the lamp,” joked Cox, hailing from Virginia and in town on Wednesday for a training event on Thursday with United County, a national real estate company with a local branch office run by the owners of Hooby’s Brewing.  The real estate company does an annual training event, explained owner Curtis Stocking. “This year we said, ‘Hey, you should do it at Hooby’s.’” The company agreed and Gallimore and Cox were there for the event, walking into a plastic-wrapped Hotel Winters during its first night.  By weeks’ end, the lobby down the street was humming at the 73-room downtown hotel, operated by Encino-based OLS Hotels & Resorts. “This is our soft opening,” said Guysell Geter, Hotel Winters’ General Manager. He smiled in the lobby amid a busy staff working to service a total of fifty-plus occupied rooms, including three bridal suites catering to on site and offsite weddings that weekend. The hotel’s newfound vibrance tops a year-long crescendo of news following years of quiet work. Guests now enjoy a luxurious “modern farmhouse” aesthetic, according to one visitor, but are still cordoned off from a yet-to-be completed restaurant and retail spaces. Development It was almost eight years ago that the City of Winters contracted PKF Consulting USA to conduct a market feasibility study related to a proposed downtown hotel project. Hired in 2012, the consulting firm eventually estimated that an average of 150 PG&E trainees per day would yield 15,750 “room nights” a year, with 11,800 captured by the “competitive market” including (at the time) 11 hotels in nearby Davis. It predicted that overnight stays in Winters would be driven primarily by the nearby University of California campus, tourists driving Scenic State Highway 128 and Interstate 505, and weddings and local events. And its report forecasted 64 percent occupancy and a hypothetical daily hotel rate of $116 in inflation-adjusted 2019 dollars.  The hotel project had its goals outlined in a January 2014 request for proposals (RFP) from the City of Winters. Its goal, among others, was to develop a “high quality, signature hotel” that could “meet the demands of a proposed PG&E Gas Training Facility.” In addition to explicitly calling attention to transient occupancy taxes (TOT) on hotel rooms, the city requested project submissions to describe the proposed impact on property taxes and overall sales taxes. Tax revenue Following the RFP, in June 2014 Measure Q asked voters “to provide revenue” and “to enhance and maintain essential City of Winters services” and social programs. Just over 1,000 voters enacted a 12 percent hotel room tax by an approval margin of 18.4%, increasing the TOT by 2 percent and putting Winters on par with rates in Napa County and elsewhere.  Developer Mike Olivas partnered with Royal Guest Hotels of Davis to design and build the hotel, beginning construction on a $13 million project in July 2017. Plan changes and customizations beset early construction. For example, floor plans were altered and the sidewalk setbacks were increased on Railroad Avenue to enhance the restaurant space. Eventually, building framing was up by March 2018, and the rooftop bar was added by August 2018. Details on customer-facing elements, along with the building facade, began to emerge over the last year. Last October, an Italian-themed restaurant named “Carboni’s Ristorante, Bar, and Market” was reported as the hotel’s anchor tenant and partner in providing hotel food services. Next, news came in March that OLS Hotels & Resorts, a Southern California-based luxury hotel manager, would manage the hotel. The city eventually hosted a job fair for OLS in June, not long after City Manager John Donlevy reported to City Council about cutting future spending due in part to budget shortfalls related to TOT projections. The current budget notes the transient occupancy taxes “should provide a steady, ongoing stream of revenue” and forecasts the city will earn $502,750 in taxes for 2019-2020, making up 4.2 percent of all expected tax revenues. Based on 12 percent of the gross revenues, this estimate suggests that by adding two local hotels to the TOT tax rolls, the city expected to develop a $4.2 million per year opportunity in new hotel business. While the Fairfield Inn project, slated by Marriott Hotels off Grant Avenue near U.S. I-505, has made little news since “moving rapidly toward the groundbreaking” according to a City Manager’s note in August 2017, Hotel Winters’ pivot toward luxury hotel status may prove a windfall for the goal of city revenue building. According to hotelwinters.com, a normal night at the Hotel will run $180 and a weekend will run $270, averaging out to $205 per night — 77 percent higher than the $126 per night in inflation-adjusted dollars that PKF Consulting USA estimated for the downtown hotel back in January 2014. A June 2018 report by data company STR suggested a national booking average of 66 percent, about the rate that PKF Consulting USA estimated for the downtown hotel. At the average $205 per night, each room will generate up to $74,825 in bookable revenue when rented out 365 days per year. With an average of 48 booked rooms — 66 percent of the 73 total available — that means up $8,979 in new TOT revenues per room for the city at a 12 percent tax rate, which is $430,992 in annualized incremental tax revenue. Hotel winters joins Abbey House Inn — “The Original public lodging of Winters, CA” according to a website tagline — as Winters’ second TOT-paying downtown hotel accommodation. The city collected $7,199 in total TOT taxes during the 2016-2017 fiscal year.  Progress The proverbial shovels that marked the beginning of construction in May 2017 are still working.  The restaurant is taking shape, but is still incomplete. Its website says “Opening September 2019.” Future tenets are slated to include a day spa and Avila Winters, a Woodland interior design store run by a Winters resident who decorated the hotel rooms. That retail space is also unfinished. Yet the hotel lobby is open for business. That means a host of new people and activity in town, including a local training event and at least three weddings, originally predicted as a likely revenue driver. “It feels fantastic. It’s surreal,” says Geter. “We have our first wedding in-house and they’re happy.” And as for the Hooby’s-drinking local trainees staying at the hotel that first night, they were jovial, too. One laughed as he described the hotel scene he left behind: “They were trying to hang art!”]]>

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