Redevelopment is under way
By Mary Thompson
“Ladies and gentlemen – redevelopment has begun,” South Lake Tahoe Mayor Tom Davis said Tuesday morning as he watched the excavator’s mechanical arm lurch closer to the empty and lifeless Tahoe Manor Motel.
One thump and the giant yellow tractor split the 1960s roof facade in half. Slates of plywood and spears of 2-by-4s crashed to the ground, signifying an impending doom for the entire block of old and tired buildings.
The city of South Lake Tahoe, in a collaborative effort with five private developers, hopes to raze 11 additional plots this spring and deliver the Park Avenue Redevelopment Project which will bring in a torrent of building activity for a new and rejuvenated center.
If the plan follows through, restaurants and retail shops, an ice rink, a cinema complex, a quarter-share hotel and a gondola that will whiz skiers to Heavenly’s slopes will all be built on the leveled land beginning this spring. Completion of the first phase of development is targeted for December 2001.
Tuesday’s demolition has been long anticipated by the people who have been involved in planning the project.
Davis said the development is what sparked his interest in serving on the City Council in 1991.
“I’ve been waiting almost 10 years to see this day and they’ve been talking about this for the last 15 years,” Davis said. “It feels great to finally see it happen.”
Joining the mayor on the demolition sidelines, a team of American Skiing Company executives and Heavenly Ski Resort personnel watched the building crunch into ruins.
Heavenly’s President Dennis Harmon said it’s an exciting day for ASC, which is the developer of the hotel and gondola project and the parent company of Heavenly Ski Resort.
“We’ve been making payments on the gondola for the last three months,” he said. “I think we should be ready to start building the (Grand Summit Hotel) around May 15.”
But that’s assuming all of the unfinished business is settled on both fronts – public and private.
The city must be able to acquire all the land and close escrow by July 1 in order to turn it over to the developers without a penalty.
In turn, ASC must be able to qualify for construction loans before the city turns the property over to them for a $2 million developer’s fee.
Both parties say they are right on target.
Stan Hansen, ASC’s director of governmental affairs, said the company will have no problems getting a construction loan.
“We’re in there,” Hansen said. “Once the land is ready, the loan is waiting for us.”
About half of those properties are either in escrow or have already closed, said Judith Von Klug, the city’s redevelopment manager. She believes the remaining six are on the way to settlements in property negotiations.
Still two more items – a parking management agreement and pending litigation to stop all activity on the project – could stand in the way of completion.
The parking agreement is crucial to the construction timeline because it must be agreed on by all proponents before the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency will issue the group a building permit.
The South Tahoe Redevelopment Agency has reviewed several parking memorandums declaring a conflict resolution tactic between the adjoining parties, but each agreement failed when some of the proponents refused to sign.
Von Klug said a new draft is on the table and is expected to go before the Agency board on April 18.
The parking agreement aside, legal action filed by Wallace Theaters Corporation also hangs over the Agency’s head.
Wallace, which operates one screen on Park Avenue, filed a motion to stay last Monday in their cross-complaint to the Agency’s use of eminent domain power. It is also seeking an injunction to stop all building activity in the area until a decision is reached in court on the Agency’s action at a March 21 hearing. At the hearing, the Agency upheld the developer’s decision to award an outside theater company the operating rights to the cinema complex planned for the new development.
C. Nicole Murphy, attorney for Wallace Theaters, said redevelopment laws mandates that the contract be awarded to Wallace Theaters because it is a displaced tenant of the redevelopment project.
A hearing for the motion to stay is scheduled for April 28, two weeks after Wallace is supposed to be out of the building.
Von Klug said she doesn’t believe the theater company is planning to move out during that time.
“They’re not moving out; they’re staying,” she said. “But the demolition of that building was toward the end anyway.”
Despite resistance from Wallace Theaters, the city is plowing forward with its demolition schedule.
By Tuesday afternoon, the Tahoe Manor Motel had slumped into a pile of rubble while nearby Cecil’s Market stood one day longer than planned. The market will likely take its fall today, followed by the small Best Buy store on Thursday.
From there, plans to wipe out the other buildings on the block are less concrete, city engineer Chuck Taylor said.
“We’ll be hop-scotching around and taking down the buildings as they become available when the asbestos removal is complete,” he said. “Most should be down by the end of April.”
Taylor said the typical building will take about three days to tear down and about five days to haul away in dump trucks.
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