City seeks grant for visitor center |

City seeks grant for visitor center

Susan Wood

Dan Thrift / Tahoe Daily Tribune / The South Lake Tahoe City Council is seeking a grant to make the Heavenly Village Transit Center a visitor center.

South Lake Tahoe may join the ranks of Sequoia and Yosemite national parks and the city of Monterey in developing a visitor center designed to educate the public about the environment.

On Tuesday, the City Council unanimously approved the California Tahoe Conservancy’s request to apply for a $1.4 million state grant to turn the underutilized transit station at Heavenly Village next to Cecil’s Marketplace into a place where people can go to learn about Tahoe. The CTC needed a 20-year commitment from the city to secure staffing and maintenance to go forward. The gap in staffing may amount to a little less than $30,000 annually, but the city plans to close that variance with help from its partners.

“I can say with some level of confidence to the council and staff we believe we can successfully staff this at no net cost to the city,” said Councilman John Upton, who served on the project subcommittee. If given the go-ahead, the center would be completed by spring 2007.

The city will be charged with planning a way to neutralize expenses and add revenue to the $7 million transit station, which was part of the $250 million Marriott-anchored Park Avenue Redevelopment Project that now sits at Heavenly Village Way. It mainly serves as a waiting area outside for people catching the bus.

The 5,800-square-foot transit building was locked up and unused for two years when it became apparent the city could not afford the high overhead – including utility costs in the winter and adequate staffing levels.

Those pieces of the puzzle are being addressed. The U.S. Forest Service, one of the many partners in the concept, has staffed the center for 35 hours a week from Thursday through Monday. The federal agency has counted an average of 120 people a day visiting the high-profile location.

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And the city also entered into an agreement with Heavenly Mountain Resort for the ski area to staff the center seven days a week from November to April. In turn, Heavenly Mountain Resort will use the space on the second floor on an annual lease to install employee lockers for its gondola staff. That money is earmarked to offset the operating costs.

“This has been the missing piece in this wonderful village we created,” said South Shore attorney Lew Feldman, who represents Marriott’s local interest.

A presentation given at the council meeting by design firm EDAW, of Sacramento, and the CTC provided a glimpse of the future of the center. Ideas have surfaced like a DVD highlighting the Tahoe experience, interactive displays, a library, orientation and concierge desk.

The state – which also kicked in $97,000 for a planning grant – expects approval of the site improvement grant to come in December. If all goes as planned, the opening would be slated for spring 2007.

The money would pay for a final design, construction documents and remodeling work on a cooperative venture that has brought an alphabet soup of agencies to the table in a planning team. Beyond the CTC, city and Forest Service, they include: the Lake Tahoe Visitors Center, Tahoe Regional Planning Agency and South Lake Tahoe Chamber of Commerce.

The agency representatives heard presentations from a few companies – one of which proposed a Universal Studios-type attraction – before coming up with its own foundation plan.

The proposed environmental center at the transit station would add to five centers that now dot the lake.