The future of a planned 8-story, 226-room Riverside hotel with a rooftop deck is up in the air because of two lawsuits challenging the city’s late 2021 approval of the project.
However, developer Atman Kadakia said he isn’t giving up on the ambitious project planned for the heart of Riverside’s downtown historic district.
“Candidly, even if it costs us $5 million over five years, we want to see this through,” Kadakia, managing principal at Irvine-based Greens Group, said.
Several groups sued in December to set aside the approval, about one month after the Riverside City Council voted 5-2 to give the firm the green light to build the hotel and convert the next-door former downtown fire station into offices. The project spans nearly one acre along the south side of Mission Inn Avenue between Lemon and Lime streets.
In one lawsuit, the Historic Mission Inn Corp., which operates the landmark Mission Inn Hotel & Spa, joined First Congregational Church of Riverside, Old Riverside Foundation and downtown business owner Gabriel Roth in asserting the city wrongly concluded an extensive environmental analysis wasn’t required. A similar suit was filed by the group Supporters Alliance for Environmental Responsibility.
The suits, filed in Riverside County Superior Court, are asking a judge to deny the approval and order an environmental study to be undertaken before any additional action is taken.
Greens Group attorney Charity Schiller of Best Best & Krieger wrote in an email Monday, July 25, that her client has not yet filed formal responses. Schiller said those will be due 30 days after the plaintiffs finish providing evidence for the case. “So it is likely to be a few weeks before responses are filed,” she wrote.
Besides targeting the Greens Group, the suits named the city.
Riverside spokesperson Phil Pitchford said city officials had no comment.
Kadakia recently suggested the owners of the Mission Inn Hotel & Spa had ulterior motives.
“It’s really an economic lawsuit,” Kadakia said. “They don’t want economic competition. They are trying to delay the project for as long as they can.”
“I think it is a tragedy that Duane Roberts and the Mission Inn have taken this approach,” he said.
David Bristow, an attorney who represents Roberts and his wife Kelly, pushed back on Monday, July 25.
“To call this economic litigation is disingenuous and absurd,” he said.
Bristow said the Mission Inn did not object to the original version of the project, “but then two years later this new behemoth was unveiled” and the hotel raised concerns on several occasions.
“The Mission Inn is a historic hotel,” said Bristow. “We have an interest in maintaining the historic integrity of downtown Riverside, which is what distinguishes us from the rest of Southern California.”
The suit mentions there are several nearby historic structures, including the Mission Inn, First Congregational Church with its iconic 113-foot bell tower, the YMCA Building, Universalist-Unitarian Church, Riverside Municipal Auditorium, Old YWCA Building and Riverside Arlington Heights Fruit Exchange.
“There is no site in this city with a higher density of surrounding historic properties than that site,” Bristow said of the project location.
Against that backdrop, he said, it was “an unfortunate abuse of the law” for the city to conclude an environmental study that wasn’t required.
“The developer didn’t want to do the CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act) analysis, so the city accommodated the developer,” he said.
Old Riverside Foundation, which advocates for the preservation of historic structures, was one of the groups that teamed with the Mission Inn on the suit.
“We’re not necessarily opposed to another hotel downtown,” David Stolte, foundation president, said Monday.
“The size is a concern,” Stolte said. “It overwhelms the other historic buildings surrounding it. It’s just out of character for downtown.”
And, yet, he said, driving into downtown from the 91 Freeway, the 93-foot-tall hotel would be the first thing visitors see.
“It would dwarf the skyline,” Stolte said.
The lawsuits assert that the city may not legally dismiss the need for an environmental study, if a project might adversely affect a historical resource. However, a document filed with the City Council’s November agenda said “there is no substantial evidence in the record here to support a fair argument that the Proposed Project could potentially” have such an impact.
Kadakia, the Greens Group official, has said that the hotel would have two brand names — AC Hotel by Marriott and Residence Inn by Marriott.
Had it not been for the lawsuits, Kadakia said, the hotel could have been under construction.
“At this point, we could have been in the ground,” he said.