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Sonoma Splash to sell Paul's Resort pool site to hotelier, affordable housing developer

That community swimming pool Sonoma has been waiting for took two steps back and one step forward last week, when the Sonoma Valley Health and Recreation Association, also known as Sonoma Splash, reached a three-way deal with an affordable housing firm and a local hotel developer to sell the land and go elsewhere to build its pool.

Sonoma Splash negotiated an arrangement to sell its 6-acre Verano Avenue property, which they had intended to turn into a community swim center, to two partners with plans to build an 80-unit affordable-housing project and a 120-room hotel, according to Paul Favaro, director of Sonoma Splash. Splash abandoned its swim-center dreams at the site this past spring when officials from the nonprofit came to the conclusion it wasn’t financially viable.

MidPen Housing, which has built several local affordable housing projects – most recently, the Fetters Apartments – is named as the housing partner; and Norman Krug, owner of Sonoma Valley Inn on Second Street West in Sonoma among other properties, has the hotel option.

“This is truly a ‘win’ on multiple fronts for the community,” said Favaro in a statement. “A small, moderately-priced hotel that will help alleviate the short-term housing need that has generated the vacation rental controversy in the Springs, (and) an affordable housing development that will help alleviate the chronic long-term housing need county-wide,” he said.

A third component of the plan, announced in a press release on Monday morning but foreshadowed at a Permit Sonoma meeting last week, would be to help fund a swimming facility at Sonoma Valley High School that would be shared with the community. Negotiations with the school district are currently underway, said Favaro.

"We are very excited to partner with Sonoma Splash with the potential of extending our community-based bond-funded projects and our facilities to enhance the recreational opportunities in the Valley," said Bruce Abbott, associate superintendent of the school district.

Abbott said the funds for a swimming pool, along with other projects, were approved by voters in the school bond initiative passed in November 2016, known at the time as Measure E.

The final piece of the puzzle is the commitment to Sonoma Little League to provide a field for youth baseball. “Paul’s Field is part of (the) real estate deal,” said Favaro firmly. “We will work with (Sonoma Little League) to coordinate the move across the street. I think there’ll be a little funding involved – but they will finally have a permanent location on public location. That’s the fourth benefit of this whole project.”

Maxwell Farms Regional Park is that “across the street” location. Sonoma County Regional Parks still-being updated revised master plan for the park, which includes two proposed youth baseball diamonds, possibly with night lighting. But Regional Parks relies on partners who can help finance park improvements, and a proposal that includes a financial component is more likely to meet with an arrangement.

Alicia Gaylord, MidPen’s director of housing development for the North Bay, said the nonprofit affordable housing developer was brought into discussions only recently, adding, “We don’t have a purchase agreement yet, we have signed a letter of intent.”

“We’re attempting to get about 80 family units on the site, right now it’s too preliminary to get specific,” said Gaylord. She said that three the parties – representatives from Norman Krug, MidPen and Sonoma Splash – would be meeting on Tuesday to go over site plan issues, and the hope is to have an agreement in short order.

Bill Blum, until recently the general manager at MacArthur Place Hotel and Spa, told the Index-Tribune he had been named by Krug as vice president of the planned hotel. “We haven’t actually picked a brand or what type of hotel it’s going to be, but we do want to make it in an affordable price range,” said Blum. Krug’s other two local hotels, the Sonoma Valley Inn on Second Street West, and the Dry Creek Inn in Healdsburg, are both Best Westerns.

The important thing, said Blum, is that the hotel is planned to be affordable, with approximately 120 rooms. “I think it’s a good project, an affordable hotel and affordable housing. It’s a good vision for the property, and helps Sonoma Splash do what they promised to do.”

The Sonoma Splash nonprofit, whose mission was to build “a multi-use, economically sustainable, community aquatics facility,” had high hopes for the Verano Avenue location, the former site of Paul’s Resort and the historic Little League diamond known as Paul's Field. But funding the project proved difficult, launched as it was in the economic downturn of recent years.

“During the period when we were looking to build the pool, we always knew we weren’t going to use all the space,” Favaro told the Index-Tribune. Indeed, despite initially promising that Paul’s Field would remain available to little leaguers, the organization had to backtrack when it became clear a development partner would be necessary to make the project pencil out.

But finding that partner proved difficult, and in the intervening three years Sonoma Splash’s debts rose as the window of opportunity seemed to close. “We’ve paid tens of thousands in property taxes every year for a one-dollar lease,” said Favaro of the arrangement with Sonoma Little League for Paul’s Field.

“The Paul's Resort site was an excellent location for a community pool, but we have an unsustainable debt burden, and this will allow us to clear that and still be able to build the community pool the Valley deserves,” the statement reads.

However, though he would not go into specifics, Favaro said the proposed agreement between MidPen, Krug and Sonoma Splash would be sufficient to “pay off all its debt and have funds remaining to seek a community pool elsewhere in the Valley.” Even if the negotiations with the school district fall through, Favaro said Splash remains committed to finding another location for a community pool.

“What we’ve learned through this process – don’t eliminate alternatives until you have a deal,” he told the I-T. But if the school district plan works out, he added, “that’s where we’re going.”

Email Christian at christian.kallen@sonomanews.com.

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