Meeks Bay bidders offer varied experience
The prize is a 20-year Forest Service lease for Meeks Bay Resort and Campground on Lake Tahoe’s West Shore.
Chasing the prize are five bidders, including two Tahoe Basin companies, the Washoe Tribe of Nevada and California, a firm that manages other Forest Service campgrounds at Lake Tahoe, and a family owned property management company from San Diego.
The U.S. Forest Service’s Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit is expected to announce the winning bid next week, and hopes to see the resort and campground open by Memorial Day weekend. The Forest Service could award a separate lease for the resort and campground.
The prospect of the Washoe Tribe returning to the site of a traditional summer encampment has grabbed the headlines, but each of the bidders promises to make significant investments in the resort that the Forest Service acquired in 1974 for $3.1 million.
Members of the Washoe Tribe spent their summers at Meeks Bay long before Europeans entered the Tahoe Basin. Even after Oswald Kehlet developed the 645-acre property as a resort in 1919, Washoe families continued to visit the site well into the 1930s.
The five bidders offer a diversity of experience.
The Meeks Bay Co., for instance, has extensive experience managing concession businesses in state parks and national forests, including Lake Tahoe. One of its partners, California Land Management, already manages six campgrounds in the Tahoe Basin.
Among the company’s other enterprises are a guest ranch at Lassen Volcanic Park, and visitor centers at Shasta Lake and Big Basin State Park.
“We’re not bringing a big checkbook; we’re bringing our experience,” said the company’s Marshall Pike.
Like the other bidders, Meeks Bay Co. promises to expand the resort’s services and revitalize the Kehlet Mansion, 12 condo units, eight cottages, 119-slip marina and 28-site campground.
The Meeks Bay Historic Restoration and Preservation Limited Liability Corp. is a partnership between a Tahoe Basin lodging owner, Mike Lafferty, and the Arkad Group of Roseville, which specializes in restoring residential and commercial properties.
Lafferty, who has owned the 13-unit Lake Tahoe Cottages in Homewood since 1987, said the partnership would like to return Meeks Bay Resort to its former glory.
“Our whole goal is to bring it back to its 1930s status,” said Lafferty, who added that he would like to expand the resort’s restaurant. He also pointed out that the resort’s master plan includes 138 cottages.
The other bidder from the Tahoe Basin is the owner of Homewood Ski Area.
Managing the nearby resort and campground would seem to be a natural extension of the ski area business, which also is dependent upon the visitor economy.
In the company’s bid, Homewood owner Nathan Topol proposed a variety of recreational activities at Meeks Bay, including fishing guides, self-directed interpretive programs and expansion of the campground to include group sites.
One of the five bidders, the Charles Ellison family of Poway, Calif., learned of the Meeks Bay lease while on a 1996 vacation in the California Gold Country.
“We fell in love with the area,” Charles Ellison said, adding that the family learned that the Meeks Bay Resort lease was about to expire from a local real estate agent.
The three-generation family owned business, C&K Resort Property Management, manages rental homes and duplexes, mostly in the Midwest. But Charles Ellison said the family is serious about the prospect of managing a resort property.
“One of the goals is how can we best serve the community, not just ourselves or the resort,” said Ellison, who conducted a survey of Tahoe Basin individuals and groups to evaluate public attitudes about Meeks Bay. “We want to keep it reasonably priced and family-oriented.”
As a result of the survey, Ellison said his company wants to build a campfire amphitheater, create a children’s program, establish community days and possibly make the seasonal resort a year-round operation.
While each of the bidders has offered to surpass the Forest Service’s minimum requirements, the Washoe Tribe is the only bidder that has had a relationship with Meeks Bay for countless centuries. Last year, the tribe signed a five-year permit with the Forest Service that paved the way for its return to the Tahoe Basin, where Washoe clans traditionally spent their summers to escape the heat of the Carson and Truckee Meadow valleys.
The five-year permit signed last year gives the Washoe authority to manage 400 acres of the basin, including 350 acres of Meeks Meadow, inland from the resort, and a 50-acre site at Taylor Creek, where the tribe plans to build a cultural center that will be open to the public.
The evaluation team that reviewed the bids was mostly recruited from outside the Tahoe Basin to minimize the effect of local sentiment. The Forest Service expects the losing bidders to challenge the decision within the 45-day appeal period, if not file suit over the potentially lucrative lease.
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