RIO VISTA -- Residents in this Delta city are pushing for a blighted hotel to be transformed from a downtown eyesore into a functional building and new business.
The Sidwell Hotel originally opened in 1862 as Rio Vista's first hotel, and it was rebuilt after a fire destroyed it in 1892. Over the years, it has operated as a commercial garage, office, restaurant, dining hall and housing for low-income occupants.
Today, it is one of the tallest buildings in Rio Vista and offers panoramic views of the Delta and the city from its location on South Second Street one block from Main Street and across the street from the public library. Many residents say the historic, former Victorian building now resembles a big plywood box.
Beverly Bellows, who owns a historic downtown home, said the Sidwell could be charming if it were renovated with windows, doors and siding added.
"It is kind of a sad building," she said. "It is a great location. It would be great for a community center or senior housing and a coffee shop. You could do a lot with that building. It could be a great little place."
Rio Vista residents are so outraged by the poor condition and lack of renovations to the building, which has been unused since 2006, that they recently held a town hall meeting with its owners, David Pfaff and Dr. Stanley Dintcho. Attempts to contact the owners for this story were unsuccessful.
Rio Vista resident Howard Lamothe said Pfaff and Dintcho are typical out-of-town landlords who have done little with the historic hotel other than get rid of the low-income housing occupants who formerly lived there.
"There has been minimal effort by the present owners to do anything," Lamothe said. "They keep coming up with game plans that are unrealistic for the city. They start something, and they change it."
Among the concepts that the owners have researched and prepared plans for were condos and an assisted living facility with a dialysis center. According to Rio Vista resident Edwin Okamura, the main issue is that the owners are unaware of the dynamics of Rio Vista because they don't live there, and there is poor communication between them and concerned residents.
"The community hasn't been informed about what is going on with them and the money that they have put into the building. Due to a lack of communication, the community has been very negative about it," he said. "There was a lot of emotion at this meeting because the hotel has sat idle for years."
At the meeting, business proposals presented included an organic market, deli or wine-tasting room. Okamura said the owners hope to reach out to newer residents from the Trilogy active lifestyle development who represent a different demographic from longtime residents and are more open to their business concepts.
"The people who showed up at the town hall meeting know what won't work. I was hoping that people would come with ideas," Okamura said. "It is a huge hot-button issue in our city. We just feel that this is the type of project that needs forward momentum."
Many residents would like to see the old hotel torn down and even a parking lot located there for the downtown, according to Lamothe. He added that its unsightly condition doesn't help recent plans to revitalize the downtown area.
"It does have some architectural value, but getting it up to code is the problem," Lamothe said. "It was a remarkable building. They have done some demolition in the interior."
Rio Vista Public Works Director David Melilli said the hotel site planning has suffered from a poor economy and business ideas that weren't feasible in the community. He noted that the owners did some interior work on the building before boarding it up.
One option for the Sidwell is low- to moderate-income temporary housing, such as studio apartments with kitchenettes and small washer and dryer units, according to Melilli. With only one operational hotel in town, the vacant building could be used for senior housing or for people coming to visit the community to see family or attend the Rio Vista Bass Derby.
Melilli said these plans are only conceptual and not yet formal.
"We are stuck," he said. "(The owners) are feeling bad that they have this boarded-up building, and that was not their intent."
Contact Paula King at 925-779-7174.