Agency greenlights convention center
KINGS BEACH – A convention center and hotel complex planned for South Lake Tahoe passed its final regulatory hurdle Wednesday with approval from Tahoe’s planning agency.
The move marks a redevelopment milestone in South Shore, where what many consider a blighted area near the state line now looks poised to become a close twin to Heavenly Village across the street.
The Governing Board of the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency gave the project the green light Wednesday in Kings Beach without a word of outright opposition from the public or board.
Several board members and a League to Save Lake Tahoe representative expressed concern that the project would increase traffic or that groundwater would interfere with a planned underground parking structure.
That prompted the addition of three more TRPA permit stipulations regarding parking and groundwater, bringing the list of conditions to almost 40.
“We now have a real project,” said Lew Feldman, attorney for Lake Tahoe Development Co., the developers of the project. “It recognizes the existing condition there is unacceptable. This is the last in a series of necessary approvals which have all recognized the environmental contributions of the project are staggering and the economic benefits will be quite significant.”
The area is now a hodgepodge of shops and 1950s-style motels, with very little landscaping. The convention center will reduce the building footprint on the block by about 80,000-square feet. It will direct rain, snowmelt and possibly groundwater to city-owned erosion-control retention ponds that were built several years ago with the project in mind.
“We’re pleased it’s going forward. We appreciate the support of the TRPA. It’s a good project – good for the environment, good for the community, it’s a good deal,” said City Manager Dave Jinkens. “It’s one of those win-win situations. It’s certainly better for the area in terms of the facilities.”
Originally conceived in the 1980’s, the convention center was phase three of a comprehensive redevelopment of the state line area commencing in the late 90’s with Embassy Suites, followed by Heavenly Village and a gondola soon after.
The convention center project faltered after a lack of interest from developers.
The project received TRPA approval once in 1998 and reissued a permit again in 2001, which expired last year.
City Councilman Mike Weber said financing was ultimately the biggest challenge.
Lake Tahoe Development will foot the $410 million construction bill in return for property and motel-room tax revenue generated after the project is built.
The conference center will still be owned by the city, which approved it earlier this month. Whoever manages the center would operate under a 100-year lease.
If all goes well, the project could break ground in spring of next year.
Lake Tahoe Development Co. hopes to announce within 60 days who will run the hotel complex at the site, Feldman said.
“It was difficult to complete the next step of negotiations until this was concluded,” Feldman said.
While project proponents said the center would extend the pedestrian-friendly feel of the Heavenly Village, board member Steve Merrill was skeptical.
“I can’t imagine you put a 4,000-person convention center anywhere and you don’t increase the traffic to that area,” Merrill said.
TRPA executive director John Singlaub said they were operating under the assumption the project would reduce traffic because of the success stories offered by Heavenly Village.
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