Tahoe’s Coachman Hotel renovation raising the bar with innovative concept
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE — The parking lot outside may still have some semblance of a construction site — a shipping container or two and a few carpenters milling about — but take a step into the lobby of the newly renovated, state-of-the-art Coachman Hotel and it is easy to see a piece of managing partner Justin Watzka, his father Peter and their investment group’s vision.
Inspired in part by the communal nature of the traditional European ski lodge with a uniquely modernized interior design, the place is at once welcoming and stylish.
Part lodge, part Starbucks, part microbrew tasting lounge, with a hint of nostalgia for the 1960s motel experience, the concept has the potential to become a model for redevelopment of the region’s aging motel infrastructure.
“It’s something I’ve been looking toward doing for a number of years,” the tall, thin, long-haired 34-year-old Watzka said sipping a Stumptown coffee in his hotel’s new communal space — which will also be open to non-guests. Watzka looks every bit the part of what you would picture from a young professional Bay Area business type, with a passion for the outdoors.
“I always wanted to do a massive referb,” the longtime Marriott employee explained. “I love the region. I just thought the timing was right. I wanted to do the project before everyone thinks it’s a super hot destination.”
Right in the middle of an otherwise nondescript block of motels, within walking distance to the casino corridor, Heavenly Village and Lake Tahoe, the multi-million dollar project is on its way to being something different.
“It was in terrible shape,” Watzka said of the original property, which was at one time two separate motels and a vacation rental before becoming the old Green Lantern Motel in the 1980s.
“We replaced all the infrastructure,” he said, describing essentially gutting the building.
Now each room is equipped with modern amenities, like flatscreens with Apple TV and drying areas for wet gear.
“The Coachman renovation continues the South Shore renaissance theme we’ve been chanting for over a year, and this adds to the value proposition and the ‘boutique’ experience we already boast,” said Carol Chaplin, executive director of Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority. “All indications are for additional investment and reinvention of various properties, which will continue to add to the variety and style of our numerous hotel configurations.”
Seeing the region’s potential, Watzka first began to dream up the idea during a visit shortly after Heavenly Village was completed in 2002.
His group of 35 investors purchased the property last April and began renovations in July under his direction with concepts from the Brooklyn, New York, based interior design firm Studio Tack.
“The best days are yet ahead,” he said, describing the South Shore. “I think the last few years you’ve seen a lot of growth.”
The Coachman’s official grand opening is planned for mid-June of this year, along with its renovated pool. But the hotel already has 37 rooms up and running as of March 23, together with its communal area.
When complete the complex will have 42 units, including a stylish three-bedroom suite made from one of the original motel lobbies and manager’s quarters. The suite sleeps 11 and includes a living room with a fire place.
The communal space features outdoor seating, a pool and hot tub, and a coffee bar complete with local and regional beer and wine.
“We’re trying to do as much local craft as possible,” Watzka said.
There’s also a full kitchen where he hopes to host chefs and events in the future.
The new communal lounge space was built out of the old five-bedroom vacation rental. Where the new bar/lounge area is was once the rental’s three-car garage. When complete, that area will also feature an upstairs meeting room, which Watzka said could host meetings or small conferences.
“We want to be a gathering space for the general public,” he said of their inspiration for the place.
In the future they also envision serving as a liaison for recreation opportunities on the South Shore.
“I think we have to make it easier to experience Tahoe,” Watzka said, describing some visitors having trouble even knowing where to access the lake a few blocks from the hotel. “We want to inspire people and make it really easy.”
Rooms at the hotel will run between $120 and $220 depending on size and season. The suite will cost between $700 and $1,200 per night.
More information is available at http://www.coachmantahoe.com.
Tribune editor Caitlin Row contributed to this article.