New visitor center to grace Echo Summit
Tom Davis and Alex Graf would like to welcome you to South Lake Tahoe. No, really, we mean that literally.
It has been their dream for nearly six years to establish a first-class visitors center on U.S. Highway 50 at Echo Summit, and it now looks like that dream is very close to becoming a reality.
“It has been clear to us for a long time that every successful resort community has a welcome center,” said Davis, the former mayor of South Lake Tahoe and part owner of Tahoe Keys Resort, along with Graf and Paul Gardner. “Basically, we’re entrepreneurs who saw a need and filled it,” he said. “But this is an opportunity that will wind up being a great thing for our community.”
The proposed visitors center – to be located about 15 miles from South Lake Tahoe, near the Sierra-at-Tahoe Ski Resort – will be a private enterprise, paid for by Davis’ company.
In the $1.8 million project, an existing building on the property would be remodeled, and 47 parking spaces would be created – including room for a motor home turnaround. The idea is to create a comfortable rest stop/starting-off point for tourists approaching Tahoe via the main artery, U.S. Highway 50.
“You have a visitors center coming in from Nevada (Tahoe-Douglas Visitors Center),” Davis said. “But nothing over on this side. You have the center in Meyers, but it’s not open all year.
“Ours would be a year-round facility, open every day from at least 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.”
Plans include large rest room facilities, changing tables for toddlers, a snack bar, advertising message boards and phones. There are also plans for environmental and historical exhibits.
“Many times, tourists will get to Tahoe and spend a lot of time driving around, trying to figure out what to do,” Graf said. “But what if they could stop at the visitors center, pick up a phone and plan everything right there, before they get to Tahoe?
“We would have hotel and motel information, ski info, recreation options … it would actually help ease the traffic congestion in Tahoe, if people come to town knowing where they are going.”
Davis and Graf have acquired the property, hired an architect and are in the process of talking to major businesses in South Lake Tahoe about participation. Businesses would pay a fee to be included in the visitors center advertising.
“We want to do this thing first class,” Davis said. “It will be a beautiful building, with river rock and vaulted ceilings and so forth.”
The preliminary target date for completion of the project is July 1.
The building that is now on the one-acre property – which is already zoned for commercial use – is the former home of ‘Bennett’s,’ a metal sculpture business. Previously, it was the Echo Summit Trout Farms. A Pacific Bell relay station is located next door, and a Caltrans maintenance area is just down the road. As part of the building’s remodel, a second story will be added.
“With this welcome center, I think that you might soon begin to see increased guest stays (at South Shore),” Graf said. “When people stop and see all that there is to do, they might decide to stay an extra night or two.
“There is really no place between Pollock Pines and South Lake Tahoe for people to stop that is open year-round. For a first-class destination resort, this is a must.”
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