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South Tahoe spreading its wings

Jim Scripps

It was another exciting week for South Tahoe, as celebrity golfers made this year’s American Century Classic one of the best in tournament history. Weeks like this may evoke some despair from Tahoe locals who want the lake all to themselves, but this is our bread and butter. At least our most popular event isn’t the National Sewage Treatment Products Showcase or the Great Gathering of Beekeepers.

It seems like every year for the past few years celebrities and the autograph hounds following them around Edgewood are arriving to an improved-looking Lake Tahoe. We are a little more crowded than years past, but the redevelopment area is better-looking (despite some locals’ negative feelings about it), and features a greater variety of shops and restaurants to lure visitors.

Hopefully, in the next few years, the celebrity faithful will see a transformation of the Highway 50 corridor between Stateline and the “Y.” If we bring curbs/gutters/streetlights and the bike path into the 21st century, it will mark the beginning of a South Lake Tahoe renaissance. With the “Y” looking sharper – provided the “Y” plan is brought to fruition – it will improve an already popular tourism hub, and give South Tahoe the continuity most of us would like to see. They may even drive their limos through a roundabout. The “Y” may become the “O.”

It stands to reason that if we have a downtown – the full 5-mile stretch between Stateline and the “Y” – that looks good, business will be drawn to those areas. All of the little hotels that struggle with marginal revenue may start lighting up their “No Vacancy” signs more often. All of the little restaurants will pack the house on Wednesday nights. Eventually, as has happened with Truckee to our north, the hotels, bars, restaurants and shops will renovate, add landscaping and pedestrian-friendly sidewalks, and further boost their economic potential. The renaissance will add jobs to all sectors of the economy, jobs we need to keep the community intact.

At least that’s the theory.

Of course, this won’t stop the exodus of young families to other, more-affordable communities. With a housing shortage driving a real estate boom, gone are the days of the $100,000 cabin by the lake. Affordable housing solutions are needed, but they will never generate enough housing to keep up with the decline in full-time families. Right now, the average South Tahoe resident is around 33 years old. Inevitably, the average age will increase over time.

In some ways, the picture is bleak. Our schools are suffering, some neighborhoods are losing their neighbors, traffic is piling up, and there is a lot of infighting with residents, business owners and government officials.

But it’s too easy to look on the negative side. South Tahoe is poised to make a great comeback after many years of stagnation. Those rundown buildings that dot our landscape may not look too rundown to local people, but visitors notice, and they vote with their dollars. Government does not have to force improvements on businesses if businesses are provided enough incentive. The evolution of South Tahoe isn’t created, it is a response to pressures. Businesses grow and die, the full-time population waxes and wanes. The only control we have is on the quality of the change.

In the next year we will guide South Tahoe to its future. The city will deliberate Highway 50 improvements, a private-sector effort may finalize and get approval for “Y” redevelopment, a roundabout may be voted on, and the issue of whether we (or even Marriott developers) want a convention center and hundreds more time share units across from the Heavenly Village will finally be settled (let’s hope). Change is inevitable, but it’s up to us to decide how it will progress. Celebrities aren’t the only ones we have to impress.

– Jim Scripps, managing editor of the Tahoe Daily Tribune, can be contacted at jscripps@tahoedailytribune.com.


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