Merced County Times Newspaper
The Power of Positive Press
Gwen Hagaman

Downtown developer plants roots in Merced

Those who attended the Downtown Neighborhood Association (DNA) February meeting at the Merced Multicultural Arts Center last week got a very personal introduction to Robin Donovan — the Joie de Vivre property manager who will be running the new and improved Tioga Hotel, El Capitan Hotel and the Mainzer Theatre, on and around Main Street.
Donovan’s commission is no small job. The new El Capitan will be an “open to the community” boutique hotel with 114 guest rooms, meeting rooms and a café/lounge. The new Tioga will feature 70 residential units and a ground floor of retail shops. And the new Mainzer Theatre will feature both cinema and live shows, an “analog” game area, and a sit-down farm-to-table restaurant.
Donovan anticipates the properties to open this year – The Tioga this fall, and the El Capitan Hotel and the Mainzer Theatre, both near the end of the year.
“Merced is one of the friendliest, nicest places I’ve ever been,” Donovan said. “We truly appreciate that everyone has been supportive of our work. Everyone has been good to work with.”
The Dream Inn in Santa Cruz is one of Donovan’s five previous hotel management successes for Joie de Vivre, a San Francisco brand known for sensitive hotel restoration projects. She has a common sense style and looks for collaborations with local businesses and organizations.
“I love doing this.” Donovan smiles. “I put my arms around it and get very personally involved. If something doesn’t work out, we are open to changing how we do it.”
Hyatt Hotels purchased Joie de Vivre at the end of 2018, though Donovan promises the Merced projects will not be labeled as Hyatt properties.
One of the challenges of the Merced projects, Donovan explained, is maintaining historical features of the buildings while still providing the modern amenities today’s customers demand. They want to contribute to the walkable downtown community. She pointed out that The Tioga, in particular, still has significant original architectural features.
“We want our hotel guests to walk around and see the best of Merced,” Donovan said. “We see lots of growth here. Current hotel guest load data indicates about 62 percent occupancy in the current hotels. We will hire sales people to find new business to fill our hotel.”
Donovan says Joie de Vivre would love to include local businesses in The Tioga’s retail space. She invites people to share their ideas and collaborate during development and after.
“Merced has a very rich history of trucks, trains and tractors,” Donovan told the audience. “Some of the characteristics of this community are a proximity to Yosemite National Park, a beautiful natural environment, and an agricultural focus. We are also looking to the future. We are considering ways to be energy efficient such as installing climate control systems to turn off air conditioning or heat when guests are not in the rooms.”
“I lived in Scott’s Valley, only seven miles from the beach. I sold my house and moved my family to Merced.” Donovan said. “When you get excited about something, that’s where you want to be. It’s my personal goal to make this my permanent home.” She’s “all in” for making Joie de Vivre’s Merced footprint a success.
For information and project updates visit online at: To contribute ideas or ask questions email [email protected].

UC Merced Humanities students, the Courthouse Museum and DNA have partnered to digitize and expand a 1985 inventory of downtown homes. The work is underway and volunteers are needed to complete existing records and add as many new home details as possible.
The inventory is a project of UC Merced’s HIVE lab (Heritage Interpretation and Visualization Environment).
“The project goal is to have an online database of downtown homes which will be maintained by the UC Merced Library,” explained Wayne Eisenhart, DNA’s Secretary and a founding Board Member. “We need volunteers to help update the records. It’s interesting – you can learn a lot – but maybe a little tedious.”
The team is led by Anaïs Guillem, a PhD Student of Interdisciplinary Humanities at UC Merced. DNA members Wayne Eisenhart, Diana Odum Gunn, Mary Newman and Gloria Conlin all contribute in various roles. Most Fridays you will find several of these folks busy working on the project at the Courthouse Museum.
Volunteers will survey neighborhoods and take pictures of some homes to complete the 1985 records. In addition, they interview homeowners about their neighborhoods and their homes, with an emphasis on recording neighborhood histories (especially in the John Muir School area).
Residents are asked to participate as interviewees, to offer their homes for survey and photography, or to type information into the new system. Interested persons may contact DNA at [email protected] for information, participation or training.

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