Pivotal project nears completion | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Pivotal project nears completion

Jenifer Ragland

In 1989, the South Lake Tahoe community was given a promise.

Redevelopment, city officials said, would turn the South Shore economy around while preserving the very environment on which that economy is built – changing the community forever.

The first step toward that vision was an ambitious redevelopment project at Ski Run Boulevard.

Nearly 10 years later, the final piece of that project – the Ski Run Marina commercial village – is beginning to take shape.

Once cluttered with poorly planned, out-of-date development and avoided by Tahoe residents, the area is on its way to becoming one of the few places on the South Shore where visitors and locals alike can gather socially on the edge of Lake Tahoe.

At the same time, the project hopefully would provide enough revenue to boost the local economy and allow environmental improvements like a restored sandy beach and walking pier.

Will it work?

Only time will tell.

But it’s clear that the success of the entire Ski Run Project has a lot riding on it – not only for individual business owners who have invested in it, but for the future of South Lake Tahoe redevelopment.

“It gives the developers confidence that they can get through the system, and that the Redevelopment Agency will live up to its commitments,” said Judith Von Klug, South Lake Tahoe redevelopment manager. “It’s hard to be the first one to do anything, and this will show that it can be done.”

Marina Village celebrates “pre-opening”

This weekend, the Marina Village is hosting a “pre-opening” celebration, inviting the community to look at what has so far been accomplished.

Parking is free all weekend, and the businesses that are open are offering special deals for anyone who ventures through the construction to check them out.

The entire commercial project, including all of the shop tenants and the Reva’s Grill restaurant, won’t be done until the middle of September.

The purpose of redevelopment is to offer a refreshed tourism product, which is essential to a town that depends on tourism for revenue, jobs and livelihoods.

But the real focus for many of the merchants involved in the village development seems to be creating a sense of what it was like in “Old Tahoe” and use that to bring the community together.

“I am totally confident that this will be a happening place,” said Joan Seifert, a 23-year resident of South Lake Tahoe and owner of Cabin Fever, a gifts and home decor shop in the village. “It’s the combination of attractive scenery, the boat and variety of retailers. People can sit out and have lunch on the lake. Where else can you do that?”

Tim Wheeler, co-owner of the Marina Village Cafe, said he hopes to implement events geared toward locals, such as live jazz music nights.

“The tourists will come here regardless, but the locals are what will keep this place alive,” he said.

His partner, Marijo Wheeler-Giardina, said she also sees the potential for the village to host events and functions that would encourage community involvement.

“People should come and see it because it represents Tahoe – it’s what I expected to see when I came to Tahoe,” she said. “People of this city should be proud of this development, because it’s such an improvement over what was here before.”

Plans for the future

Dena Schwarte, co-owner of the marina and developer of the village project with partner Michael Phillips, said the second phase of the marina redevelopment is, to her, the most exciting.

Once the commercial phase is completed, Schwarte said she will begin working on getting approvals and funding for a project to clean up the Ski Run harbor, restore the public beach and build a new, longer walking pier where the Tahoe Queen tour boat will dock and board passengers.

“Environmentally it makes a lot of sense,” Schwarte said. “The harbor accepts drainage, treated and untreated, and it’s going into the lake. Pushing the boat farther offshore will also help the view corridor.”

Schwarte said she has no doubt that the Marina Village will be a monetary success, primarily because of its success in creating the “rustic Tahoe” atmosphere that is the philosophy behind the $200 million redevelopment planned for Park Avenue and smaller redevelopment efforts throughout the city.

“We’re hoping this sets an example for other projects coming online,” she said. “I am proud of it.”

A rocky beginning

The multimillion-dollar Ski Run Boulevard Redevelopment Project includes the Embassy Suites at Stateline, Embassy Vacation Resort projects on both sides of U.S. Highway 50 at Ski Run, Al’s Chevron, McDonald’s and the Marina Village.

Due to some unforeseen circumstances, it has been a long and sometimes rocky road from conception to reality.

The Redevelopment Agency in 1989 approved implementation of the Ski Run Hotel project before the financing was secured. During site preparation that summer, soil contamination was discovered and delayed work on the project for about a year.

By the time construction was ready to resume, the developer, El Dorado Improvement Corporation, was unable to secure financing due to changes in the financial market and filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

With the glut of hotels on the market, it wasn’t until 1994 that Koar-Tahoe Partnerships acquired the development rights out of bankruptcy court with the Embassy Vacation Resort time-share proposal.

Six years after the original project was expected to be completed, critics of redevelopment question if all the time and money was worthwhile.

But that question is easy to answer for anyone who has been involved in the massive redevelopment effort.

“I do think the motivation is still the economy and the environment. The community has not done well in past years economically, and there was a strong feeling that a strong economy would rest on the diversity of tourism,” Von Klug said. “The reason we were having trouble getting our share of the market was because we didn’t have the product that the market wants.”

Despite the frustration that may come with how long it has taken to complete the Ski Run redevelopment effort and resistance some people have to the “huge” Embassy development, Von Klug said people should try to remember what the area would have been like had nothing been done.

She described the “worst case scenario” for Ski Run as not succeeding in creating a unique sense of place and not being able to fix it, so that people don’t enjoy being there, the businesses die and time-share sales don’t take off. Von Klug quickly added that she really doesn’t think that will happen.

“But it’s sometimes valuable to look at the worst case scenario, because you realize that the worst case is not all that bad. Before redevelopment, that area was 100 percent land coverage and ugly, obsolete buildings,” she said. “If we fail, failure isn’t disastrous. Failure is still an improvement over what was there before.”

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