The recent conversation among Ukiah City Council members about attracting a downtown hotel should send shivers up the spines of local restaurants and existing hotels.
The city seems determined to have a downtown hotel and the $25,000 study the city now has in hand says they should try to attract a major upscale chain hotel, definitely with a restaurant and conference space.
Why a restaurant? If the idea is to attract business to the downtown, why give a hotel the added boon of keeping all its customers in the building at night? Seventy-five rooms full of people downtown would be a big boost to local restaurants, but allowing say, a Hilton or a Hyatt to come in with its own restaurant would be the equivalent of allowing a big new chain restaurant in the downtown. Is that the idea? If a large upscale hotel moves to the downtown, wouldn’t that be enough incentive for more local restaurants to open in the downtown area? Maybe the post office building would finally be attractive, or some of the other vacant downtown spaces. Maybe the city should think about how to make that prospect easier.
The study also indicates the hotel should have a conference space. Why? The city has its own under-used conference center. Isn’t that the point of bringing a hotel downtown? To provide more business for existing business?
The study indicates the average price of a hotel room now is about $76. We argue that this figure is unrealistic and includes all the budget hotels where budget customers will continue to stay anyway. The study says a high end hotel would charge about $170 a night. We doubt that. The two upper scale highway hotels we have now already charge more than that. A night at the Fairfield Marriott in Ukiah on a July weekday will range from $175 to $219. The same July weekday at the Hampton Inn goes for $185 to $264. Are rates higher than these likely to fill 75 rooms a night, 365 days a year? Maybe.
We have no problem with an upscale hotel moving into the downtown. As the man giving the council the study details noted, “that’s capitalism.” But we warn the city against giving a large chain hotel any kind of leg up to do it. The city says it is not considering giving up anything, including its parking lots. The study, according to the council, was based on “hypothetical” areas of the downtown. It used parking lots as examples only of potential areas, not wanting to point to any specific spot currently owned by someone else.
The city also says it has been talking with some hotels already. That’s fine and presumably if those hotels think Ukiah is a good bet, they’ll find a spot and fund their project all on their own. Providing an ideal location, or other tax or utility benefits, is a hefty incentive for any company to move in. There are times when a city should do that. Providing a bunch of low wage housekeeping jobs is not one of them in our book.
If the city is going to move ahead, it should be sure to protect the taxpayers and take care not to kick its existing long time businesses in the face.
(Courtesy the Ukiah Daily Journal)