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Merchants Hear Plans for Castro Hotel

by Tony Taylor

A drawing of the proposed Hotel Castro
A drawing of the proposed Hotel Castro  (Source:Courtesy Hotel Castro)

The forgettable facade of 4230 18th Street might become the site of the Castro district's first official hotel. While details of the development are being kept mostly under wraps - and it's not expected to go before planning officials for several months - the business partners behind the hotel are seeking support from local merchants.

The project comes at a time when some local business owners report a possible slow-down in tourism due in part to President Donald Trump's immigration crackdown and the recent unrest, and Trump's comments about white supremacists and neo-Nazis.

"We are currently in the process of developing our operations plan, which includes staff count and technology," said Gannon Tidwell, a representative for Hotel Castro, in an email to the Bay Area Reporter.

A news release about the hotel distributed at the September 7 Castro Merchants meeting stated, "This will be the first hotel in the Castro, a vibrant community that deserves its own hotel." Intended to introduce a tourist hotel and restaurant in the heart of the Castro and Eureka Valley, the project will provide a "much-needed service," the release stated.

"The Castro is a supply-constrained gathering spot ... [and] the Hotel Castro will be a welcome addition," read the release.

Daniel Bergerac, president of Castro Merchants, is in favor of the project.

"I think Hotel Castro will be a great addition to the neighborhood," Bergerac said via email. "The contemporary design of the new hotel will enliven the block. I have no concerns with this project moving forward."

Tidwell said the project is not imminent.

"We have some time," he said, noting that Hotel Castro is expected to open in 2020. "We are going through the entitlement process and would like to remain out of the spotlight for now."

The hotel's representatives, Tidwell and Rich Springer, said in their release, "Our success is your success." The hotel expects to draw guests into the Castro and leverage the existing merchant community.

To connect tourists with merchants, the hotel will use the internet and social media, as well as "old-school coupons" and a visitor guide. "Our hotel is meant to be progressive and connected to the community," read the release.

It explained that the "small scale" hotel's design, with 12 rooms, is "open to the street," conforming to the existing block. "Dramatic" floor to ceiling windows, balconies, and ground floor dining will allow hotel and restaurant patrons to be "part of the neighborhood."

But the vision for Hotel Castro may be premature. With some reports showing slowed summer tourism, the Hotel Castro could be challenged to fill vacancies as long as Trump's travel ban peppers the headlines.

A recent article in the Los Angeles Times reported that industry leaders say new data, based on Department of Commerce figures, air travel booking sites, and international aviation groups, "show that international travel to the U.S. has, indeed, weakened since January."

The article noted that travel industry leaders had expressed concern that Trump's comments about Mexicans and Muslims would make international travelers feel unwelcome in the U.S. if he became president.

Additional security measures in place for travel to the U.S. may also be contributing to the slowdown, the Times reported.

Local merchants have heard "mixed results."

"While my business, Mudpuppy's Tub and Scrub, doesn't do much tourist business, I've heard mixed results from other merchants in the neighborhood," said Bergerac. "Overall, I'd say business was good in the Castro this summer."

Unionmade founder Todd Barket feels differently, noting his apparel business relies on tourism.

"Since our [temporary] move to 18th Street, we have noticed the tourist customer definitely feels soft," Barket said. "We were missing many of the European customers we see customarily in the summer months."

In June, Unionmade moved to 4035 18th Street and, according to Barket, will return to its remodeled 493 Sanchez Street location some time in October.

"Eighteenth Street has been tough," Barket added. "We are missing business and it's half the size of our normal space."

Though he missed the announcement of Hotel Castro at September's Castro Merchants meeting, Barket, a gay man, thinks the proposition of a hotel in the neighborhood is great.

"It's a nice option for people who want to stay on that side of town," he said. "There aren't a lot of options currently. I think it will enhance our business and vitality in the neighborhood."

Current nearby lodging choices include bed and breakfast spots Parker Guest House and Willows Inn, and Beck's Motor Lodge.

Hotel Castro's aim is to draw travelers desiring an experience in the historically rich Castro district, "rather than just tourist standbys such as Union Square or Fisherman's Wharf," the release said. "[Our tourists] will use the plentiful public transportation, ride bikes, or walk and they will patronize the local establishments."

Tidwell and Springer said that guests would be there "to engage with the vibrant Castro community, enjoy Dolores Park, catch a movie at the Castro Theatre, or just enjoy their moments in the neighborhood."

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