Redevelopment: It’s not just for tourists
Redevelopment. Touted as the salvation of South Shore’s tourism industry, some residents feel apathetic to the plans. Others are gung-ho, only wishing it could begin sooner.
Flower beds are planned to replace concrete, and 1960s boxy buildings will give way to modern mountain architecture in a village setting.
It’s not just for tourists.
But why should a hard-working South Shore resident care about redevelopment?
Let me count the ways, answer redevelopment advocates as they roll out long lists of pluses.
Redevelopment includes big benefits – pocket-book benefits – that touch everyone who lives at Lake Tahoe, they say.
“The first question I’d ask (someone not supportive of redevelopment) is ‘What business do you work in that doesn’t depend on tourism?'” said Terry LeBan, director of the Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority. “Even plumbers work on vacation rentals.”
Hair stylists cut the hair of blackjack dealers. Doctors fix legs broken on the ski slopes. Teachers instruct the children of motel staffers. Et cetera.
“How would they make a living if tourism wasn’t here?” LeBan said.
“If your company’s doing better (thanks to improved tourism), some benefit will trickle down to the employees.”
“But what about all those tourists who block traffic while turning left from the U.S. Highway 50 traffic lane?” moans a chorus of frazzled residents.
Improved tourism doesn’t necessarily mean more tourists driving down the street. Included with the redevelopment projects is a monumental improvement to public transportation.
“As opposed to increasing traffic, it will have the opposite effect,” said Lew Feldman, lead attorney for project developers. “(The transit plan) will also significantly enhance the levels of service for residents. It will take people out of their cars.”
The car factor is one of the reasons redevelopment is supported by environmental organizations. They don’t want more tourists driving down the streets anymore than locals, trying to get to appointments on time, want to be stuck behind them.
“Park Avenue will offer everything to do (for locals and tourists) without getting back into your car.”
The introduction of 120 frontage-feet of new retail space will be “a significant departure from the current mix of shops,” Feldman said. “There will be a whole interesting mix of appropriate retail that is completely lacking in this market.”
Just what shops will be included is still being worked out, but Feldman said plans go far beyond souvenirs and T-shirt shops.
Definitely included are an ice-skating rink, eight-plex theater, toddler park, restaurants and public art features.
“A variety of activities to take up most of a day,” Feldman said. “You can buy a latte and just enjoy the park-like setting. You don’t even have to spend a dime.”
Another redevelopment plus is the environmental measures being taken to protect the lake.
Currently, the 34 acres from Park Avenue to Embassy Suites Resort is about 97 percent covered by concrete, asphalt and buildings with no runoff treatment. About 1,000 pounds of pollutants flow annually into the lake from that area, Feldman said.
The reduction of the amount of hard surface to 75 percent, plus extensive runoff filtration improvements, will substantially reduce the amount of gunk draining into the lake from the Stateline area, a big reason environmental officials support the project.
Then there’s the scenic value of redevelopment. Perhaps the least of reasons but the most visible.
The clearance between street and store fronts will increase from only 5 feet – not enough for pedestrians to stay clear of slushed splashed from passing cars – to 60 feet of landscaped parkway.
That and the reduced concentration of buildings will open views of the mountains to everyone.
“The (current) identity of our community is a strip-commercial concept. At best, an artery to gaming,” Feldman said. “There is no connection of South Lake Tahoe to the mountains.”
As an example of what a difference a view can make, Feldman pointed to the incomplete Linear Park from Ski Run to the Pioneer Trail intersection. Even with only half the hurricane fence replaced with wood and iron along Tahoe Meadows, and the walkway to be laid this summer, people already notice a difference.
“Just about everyone you talk to says what a transformation Tahoe Meadows is, and it’s not even finished,” Feldman said.
Another reason to support redevelopment is even less tangible than the view.
“Pride in where you live,” LeBan said. “How can you clean up the neighborhood you live in and not say that it’s a benefit?”
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