Thursday, August 2, 2012
Nader Agha, who owns the historic Holman Building in Pacific Grove, has a new BFF in San Antonio, Texas-based hotel developer H. Drake Leddy. The two recently joined forces to build the hotel city leaders have been trying to manifest for decades.
But before they can move forward, P.G. voters will have to approve a November ballot measure raising the building height cap in the so-called Holman Block.
A related measure passed in 1994, allowing hotel zoning on the block bounded by Lighthouse, Grand, Central and Fountain avenues. Agha bought the property – which includes the Holman Building and several neighboring retail spaces – at an auction the following year. But his plans for a hotel stalled for more than a decade, and in 2008 he put the property on the market for $11 million.
In 2009, a city subcommittee determined a hotel on the Holman Block would generate both tax revenue and vitality in P.G.’s sleepy downtown. The support encouraged Agha to take the property off the market, but officials urged him to partner with someone more experienced in hotel development.
That seed was planted when Leddy’s guy (Mark Kusera, president and COO of Leddy’s hotel development company, Presidian) and Agha’s guy (Grass Valley-based real estate consultant Richard Van Steenkiste) chatted about the prospect over wine in L.A.
Leddy hadn’t heard of P.G., but he’d visited a frat brother in Pebble Beach and liked the place. So last spring, he scoped out America’s Last Hometown. “I can’t tell you how surprised I was a town as well preserved to the Gay ’90s and Roaring ’20s existed,” he says.
The hotel magnate, whose extensive credits include the Hilton President Kansas City and the Mayo Hotel in Tulsa, envisions a 250-room hotel behind the Holman Building, with rates around $200 per night.
Leddy says the Holman Building itself is too square for a hotel and, at 88 years old, in need of a seismic retrofit. But the Holman Hotel could use the Holman Building’s basement for back-of-house operations, he says, and the top floor for social events.
“This saves the Holman Building,” says Craig Riddell, a former P.G. Planning Commission chair who’s now a marketing consultant to Leddy.
One daunting challenge: water. Agha’s parcel has 9.2 acre-feet per year in water credits, but a 250-room hotel would need more than 15.1, according to senior city planner Ashley Hefner.
Agha’s fantasized about a mini-desalination plant in the Holman Building’s basement, but Leddy’s not a fan of that idea. He won’t, however, divulge his plans for a water supply. “I don’t think it’s impossible,” he says. “I wouldn’t have put this much money into it if I did.”
He says he’s spent about $300,000 on the project so far and expects a final price tag in the mid-$50 millions.
Leddy’s message to city leaders: The Holman Hotel is in experienced hands.
“I never get involved in a project like this I don’t control,” he says. “[Agha] is a partner, but he doesn’t have a management say. At one time he wanted more say, and I said no.”
Agha couldn’t be reached for comment by press time.
On July 11, the P.G. City Council directed staff to prep the paperwork for a ballot measure that would mesh city law with Leddy’s vision: increasing the maximum building height from 40 to 70 feet and maximum site coverage from 75 to 100 percent.
The council’s scheduled to vote Wednesday, Aug. 8 on whether to put the measure on the ballot.