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Officials report flow of tourists is slowly rising

YOUNTVILLE, NAPA – As tourism leaders report an upswing in business compared with declines in the first half of the year, Yountville prepares to unveil yet another boutique inn called the Hotel Luca.

Though it is Napa's smallest town, Yountville boasts the nation's largest concentration of Michelin-star rated eateries and a sizeable assemblage of ultra luxury hotels, including the recently opened Bardessono Resort, whose rates range between $600 and $850 a night.

The Monterey-based Mirabel Hotel and Restaurant Group broke ground on the 20-room, Italian villa-style Hotel Luca last summer and are preparing to unveil the final product in about two months. Mirabel Managing Partner David Fink said the inn will feature a painstakingly detailed interior of Venetian inspiration, including 300-year-old Florentine tiles, hand-loomed fabrics and custom furniture. All rooms will have access to their own patios or porches, double sinks, flat screens and deep soaking tubs.

The hotel will also include a modest spa with four treatment rooms, a fireplace and a saltwater, lavender pool. The ground floor will house a casual Italian restaurant and pizzeria called Cantinetta Piero, named after a family friend, that will be accented by courtyard seating, custom glass art, fountains and an outdoor fireplace. Mr. Fink's brother, Jeff Fink of Jeff Fink and Associates, created the drawings for the hotel, and the interior design was fashioned by his wife, Kathleen Fink of KMF Designs.

Room rates range between $265 and $650 a night.

"My wife and I have been coming out to Napa for years and years, and if the valley is the center of the universe for food and wine, Yountville is the gastronome village at its epicenter," David Fink said.

The company currently operates two facilities in Monterey, a casual, gourmet Italian eatery called the Cantinetta Luca in Carmel-by-the-Sea and the L'Auberge Carmel Hotel and Restaurant close by.

Local hospitality and tourism representatives from across the county reported a relatively unified message concerning the market this summer: Things aren't as bad.

Calistoga Chamber of Commerce Director Rex Albright said transient-occupancy taxes for the city were down about 7 percent for the fiscal year ending last month, but it could be worse compared with other regions' revenues that tumbled by 15 percent and 25 percent.

"Tourism is down, that's just a fact, but we have actually seen some increases in July," he said. "At least it's not going straight down anymore."

Yountville and St. Helena officials reported similar modest drops year over year and slower changes in the summer months.

"We are seeing about 200 people a day in the visitors center, which is pretty normal for the summer season. We expect the drops in occupancy rates to be back to normal by the end of harvest," said Cindy Saucerman, Yountville Chamber executive director and city mayor.

"I am pretty comfortable with how we have been doing in the recession. Yes, people are spending less; yes, sales are down; yes, TOT is down, but there are not going-out-of-business sales, and people are still clamoring for more space to develop."

Sean Dempsey, a hospitality veteran and a director with the Meritage Resort in Napa, said although the hotel has shelved expansion plans due to drops in occupancy, it appears "the worst is behind us." He said the Meritage started to see a resurgence in business as early as April.

"Our saving grace has been the drive in market," he said. "Even though people aren't going on long vacations as much, we still have a fairly large San Francisco and Sacramento market."