Downtown Riverside is getting a tall hotel. Or more accurately, another tall hotel, as some recent additions are already five or six stories.
But the proposal for an eight-storey hotel was met with much criticism. As my colleague David Downey pointed out, the hotel was approved by the city council by a 5-2 vote on Tuesday, November 16.
I attended the hearing myself to see how things played out. I wrote about the hotel in August, saying that a lot of the negativity was surprising.
The developer was not proposing to cut any forest. He wants to build an upscale hotel in a vacant lot in the heart of the city, near tourist spots and on a freeway. If it were proposed in, say, an Ontario city, I wrote, everyone would be unable to believe their good fortune.
However, to cover myself, I added a standard disclaimer: “But what do I know?”
Read more: Eight-storey downtown Riverside hotel approved
Very few, many of you informed me.
You noted various alleged violations in the bureaucratic process and believed that the bulk of the hotel, perhaps literally, is the first Congregational Church of 1913 across the street. Another important point was the contrast between the early 20s character of the gleaming hotel and many of the surrounding buildings.
A critic of the Church detailed all the points missing from my column. Her email was 1,000 words, the exact length of the column she was commenting on. Which I think should have been twice as long?
I also heard from a board member of the Riverside Art Museum, which is directly across the site. RAM supported the project at a city meeting in April, calling a hotel “an obvious, very consistent use” for the site. The leaders later decided that they would refuse to take official positions because of their sensitivity to neighbours, although one had already been clearly expressed.
Clearly if I’m going to pay any attention to Riverside Government, I’m going to need a scorecard, as well as a pencil with an eraser.
However, in Tuesday’s meeting. The hearing began at 3:15 pm, the chambers were barely populated, although the speaker could take calls.
Co-developer Ataman Kadakia said the hotel will be a Marriott under two brands: Residence Inn for extended stay travelers and AC Hotel for business travelers. AC Hotels, he said, is such a high-toned brand that Marriott initially said it was too far to qualify in the Riverside Sticks.
“We fought hard to win this brand,” Kadakia told the council.
The hotel will have 226 rooms and 144 parking spaces. This is more space than required under the city code. One city planner said many guests would arrive from Ontario airport via shuttle or rideshare and would not need a car.
A rooftop “view deck” will measure 2,850 square feet and offer sweeping views of the city. Visitors can see the First Congregational Church and the wave below.
Opponents spoke. History-minded folks at the Old Riverside Foundation said the hotel would change the city for the worse. Record producer Gabriel Roth, whose studio is in the former 1909 YMCA, said more studies should be done.
Lawyers for the Mission Inn and the Opponents’ Coalition protested. We may not have heard the last of them.
Supporters also spoke. They included the Riverside Downtown Partnership, whose executive director said downtown needed more hotels and that the site was ideal, near RAM, the Municipal Auditorium, and the upcoming Cheech Museum.
“This hotel will be a game-changer downtown,” confirmed Jim Guthrie, a lead developer.
“This is an opportunity that needs to be seized,” said Rob Dodman, who built the city of Imperial Hardware Lofts.
A lot of the arguments boil down to history versus change. (I’m a fan of both.) One supporter noted the differing results when the project came out in front of two city panels.
“It is no surprise that the Cultural Heritage Board and the Planning Commission are on the opposite side,” said marketing professional Dax Alexander. “One is firmly rooted in the past and the other is planning for the future.”
Councilwoman Erin Edwards, in whose district the hotel will grow, said she was surprised to learn that the neighborhood, despite having many historic buildings, has not frozen in time. The 91 freeway arrived in 1963, and in the middle decades of the century some buildings were torn down and others erected.
“Riverside is a thriving city because we can preserve our history and embrace change,” Edwards said. “I am proud to support this project.”
Council members Chuck Conder and Clarissa Cervantes disagreed, demanding a full environmental review. Conder said the city needs more hotel rooms to compete against convention centers in Ontario, Long Beach and Palm Springs, but the city also needs to “defend” its historic district.
The meeting ended with a vote at 5:10 a.m. Afterwards, co-developer Andrew Walker told me he would expect construction to begin in 2022. The project went through “a full, rigorous review” and no mitigation measures were deemed necessary, he said.
Walker, by the way, recalled my piece at the August meeting, in which last-minute document dumps by opponents delayed a decision by three months.
“I read your column many times. It got me out of my funk,” he said anxiously.
Opponents have 30 days to try to legally block the project, a move that seems likely. That could send her back into a funk.
Anyway, I’m glad I was back and forth. How Riverside sees itself was a window, or perhaps a viewing deck.
On Monday I was walking downtown Riverside, a few steps behind a man in a T-shirt with this motto: “God’s Got My Back.” Then he turned to the entrance to a building where such support might be needed: the Riverside County Courthouse.
David Allen got Friday, Sunday and Wednesday. Email [email protected], phone 909-483-9339, like davidallencolumnist on Facebook and follow @davidallen909 on Twitter.