By Michael Haran
A few weeks ago the Press Democrat ran an article about the Villa Chanticleer. The article stated that “a city-commissioned consultant’s report recommended that to make the Villa profitable, the city reduce discounts offered to local, nonprofit, government and social groups.” The Villa is one of the City of Healdsburg’s civic treasures. From the time it was purchased in 1955, to the present the Villa has been used by the community for weddings (both local and out-of-towners); social events (school proms, Christmas and holiday parties, and anniversaries); meetings (Kiwanis, school districts, the Healdsburg Garden Club; and fundraising (Rotary crab feed, Kiwanis and Boy Scouts pancake breakfasts, the American Legion gin-fizz breakfast). The report didn’t break out “events” such as the Chamber of Commerce’s annual Business Fair which I assume is included in one of the above categories.
It was disturbing to me that the report suggested “reducing the discounted percentage for local groups.” Local fundraisers and events are a vital part of the life we enjoy in Healdsburg. It is at these events that the community meets and greets. These events are not only important for the good causes that they support, but they also introduce our children to the value of volunteering. Our local fundraising event should not only be encouraged, they should also be, if necessary, subsidized by the City for the betterment of our community.
David Mickaelian, Healdsburg’s Community Services Director, said that the article was confusing in that the report was actually referring to the activities (such as weddings or social events) which were held at the Villa by people who didn’t live in Healdsburg but got a “resident” discount because they went through a friend or relative who did live in the town. Weddings were by far the largest income producer, averaging $3,119 per event; next were Fundraisers, which generated $863 per event; followed by Social events at $665, Meetings at $56, and Classes which generated $26 per event.
The article stated that the Villa lost $16,000 in 2005 and $56,000 in 2006. The increased deficit in ‘06 was due mainly the facility’s deferred maintenance. The consultant’s report suggested that to increase revenue, renovations to the Villa would cost between $400k and $1.2m. These would include audio-visual upgrades, raising the ceiling in the bar, installing room dividers, putting in side doors to create a more open feeling, developing a new outdoor waiting area for wedding parties, modernizing the restrooms, and improving the acoustics.
I don’t think over spending on improvements is the right answer. A lot of money has been spent improving the Villa over the years from the $150k to finish the buildings and grounds after the original purchase to the $1.3m that was spent in 1992 which included a heating/cooling system, refurbishing the kitchen and bar area, cleaning the redwood interior paneling, paving the parking and picnic area, installing a public address system, installing a portable stage and bring the exits up to code to meet the federal Disabilities Act. Upon completion the Parks and Recreation Director was quoted as saying, “…now this building will be solid. We won’t have to go in there for another 50 years.” So much for another 50 years.
The only improvement that should be made, I feel, are those that support the use of technology such as wireless outlets (reportedly this work has been completed), a multimedia system, and improved acoustic so everyone in the room can clearly hear event speakers. A 1964 Healdsburg Tribune article said that the only thing keeping the Villa from becoming a first rate corporate retreat facility was the lack of quality hotel and motel accommodations in the area. Well, we certainly now have plenty of those. In addition, the hiring of a full time manager to focus on generating facility revenue was a step in the right direction.
The charm and beauty of the Villa and it’s proximity to the ambiance of the wine county should be its biggest draw for mid-week activities. Maybe only residents (which ought to include Fitch Mountain resident) and their immediate families (children and/or parents) should be entitled to facility discounts. I think if we all put our heads together we can come up with a plan to generate Villa revenue that won’t require reducing the subsidies for our local residents and fundraisers. Ideas…the Villa needs ideas!