Convention center proposal modified |

Convention center proposal modified

Susan Wood
An artist's rendering shows the convention center complex proposed for the Stateline area.

STATELINE – When the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency gets a glimpse today of South Lake Tahoe’s next phase of redevelopment that involves a convention center, they’ll see an evolving project designed to meet the changing times of resort markets and environmental concerns.

The latest convention center proposal near Stateline across from the Marriott-anchored Heavenly Village has changed shape since the 12-year concept first hit the Tahoe scene.

— The overall size of the project covers less land.

— It has risen to six stories in height, up from four floors considered at one point.

— More convention center space was added.

— The developer is vying for two condominium hotels.

The design is expected to come before the City Council next month – perhaps the financial agreement June 6 and the development agreement a few weeks later. Construction is set for May 2007.

The $410 million proposal involves a 50,000-square-foot convention center the city has pledged to own. It was once 47,000 square feet. The center’s space can be divided up in separate meeting spaces but may open up to a 4,400-seat arena accommodating boxing matches, concerts or performing arts shows.

The idea is to create a draw into the resort community given the competitive nature of tourism. The South Shore economy is 85 percent driven by tourism.

“The community was pretty unified in saying the performing arts venue was inadequate,” said South Shore attorney Lew Feldman, who represents Lake Tahoe Development Co. led by Randy Lane of Stateline and John Serpa of Carson City. He was referring to feedback by lodging, chamber and gaming representatives.

The developer now stands to gain two condominium hotels – one with 287 units and the other with 99. One was planned before. In between the hotels, a village green area would include a walking path, pond, waterfall, deck for outdoor restaurant eating and sloped seating for outdoor events. Space for retail will also be added.

“It will be similar to Heavenly Village, with a pedestrian character. It will have an active streetscape that’s compatible with the other side of Highway 50,” Feldman said.

But that aside, the project has been scaled down from 20 acres to 12. Feldman attributed the reduction in part to MTBE contamination in the underground tanks at nearby Tahoe Toms. Concurring was the South Tahoe Public Utility District, which won a precedent-setting lawsuit against oil companies in 2001 against the fuel additive. The Lahontan Water Board has been managing the site and identified the problem plume in a 1-acre area. It once covered land three times the size.

“There’s still have a problem out there but not near the degree of the 1990s. We considerate the site to be 95 percent cleaned up,” said Lisa Dernbach, a senior engineering geologist.

The project site now falls between Highway 50, Stateline, Cedar and Friday avenues. With less acreage now, Poplar and Laurel Avenues would be eliminated. Lake Tahoe Development Co. has bought up or “stands ready to buy” 24 of the 29 properties in the project area. Feldman added the developer stands poised to purchase the rest – without any need for the city to step in with eminent domain. He declined to release the names until all have signed on.

Close to the final deal

“We’re still working with the city and TRPA on design issues. In the overall scheme, things have been pretty much resolved,” Feldman said. “With such a big project, we thought we’d let them see what we have rather then bring it to them cold.”

TRPA planning staff has been working for a few months with the six-story design, which falls within the 73-foot height threshold. The developer presented the design to the city Planning Commission a few weeks ago.

“Overall, we thought the project was pretty good. There was a concern about how pedestrian traffic would be channeled to the (Heavenly) gondola,” Commissioner Pat Frega said, summarizing the panel’s feedback.

The commission also questioned whether the on-site (storm)water treatments would be sufficient and how they tie in with the majority of the plan, according to Frega. The plan now calls for retention ponds to filtrate the sediment.

“But overall, we liked the architecture, the concept and the fact there are private and public amenities,” he added.

In addition, Frega said the commission wants to maintain the Union 76 gas station. That’s what station owner Jim Hickey is aiming for because he invested more than $100,000 in landscaping improvements to meet TRPA’s guidelines under best management practices.

“This is kind of what I was hoping for, but I don’t know if that’s going to happen,” Hickey said.

“It’s a noble thought, but it can’t remain at its present location (for the project to move forward),” Feldman responded.

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