The convention center gets in line |

The convention center gets in line

When the South Lake Tahoe Redevelopment Project 3 received Tahoe Regional Planning Agency approval a year ago, some thought it might leap-frog ahead of the delayed Park Avenue Redevelopment Project.

With the inclusion of 103,000 square feet of convention space planned for the convention center portion of the project, California business people considered Project 3 – which is in search of a catchier name – an urgent addition to South Shore’s economic picture.

The most popular time for convention business is shoulder season: April, May, October and November, the slowest months of the year for South Shore tourism.

“By making our shoulder time available to those groups it will address the weakest part of our cycle,” said Lewis Feldman, attorney for the redevelopment developers.

In addition, many California organizations only hold their conventions inside the state, which eliminates them from considering South Shore where most convention space is inside Nevada casinos.

Project 3 plans encompass the 16-acre wedge between U.S. Highway 50 and Cedar Avenue with Stateline Avenue to the east and past Stardust Lodge on the west.

Besides the convention center, the project includes a convention hotel and a time-share hotel, expected to be developed by Harveys Resort & Casino. The Segal/Yure families, owners of Sierra Shirts and other businesses in the corridor, have development rights for the retail shops, food and beverage plus an art center and child-care center. The city also plans a park with an interpretive center and a pond in the shape of Lake Tahoe, known as Lake Passage.

Landscaping, streetscaping and environmental measures in the Project 3 development will continue the improvements started in the Park Avenue project across the highway.

Last year, developers were ready to move ahead.

But after nipping at the heels of Park Avenue, several elements slowed the forward progress of Project 3. It’s now back in line behind Park Avenue.

“Phase 1 of Park Avenue has to be operating with revenue being generated to sell bonds for Project 3,” said former City Manager Kerry Miller, who recently moved to Encinitas, Calif. “It can stand by itself, but, in terms of going out and trying to sell bonds, (investors) are going to want to see a track record.”

Once Park Avenue begins to generate revenue, the bonds can be rolled over for Project 3. Ski Run revenue helped in the sale of Park Avenue bonds and Park Avenue is expected to boost Project 3.

Other reasons for the delay were the inability of city staff to juggle both projects, the importance of the Park Avenue gondola and transit center for traffic mitigation plus the sale of Harveys Resort & Casino to Colony Capital, Inc.

“It was a conscious decision with the consultants and with Park Avenue developers to have Park Avenue move forward first,” Feldman said.

“Colony, as a new owner, is evaluating the assets of each (Harveys Casino Resort) property,” Redevelopment Manager Judith Von Klug said. “Colony is not really focused on redevelopment at South Lake Tahoe. It’s perfectly normal. I don’t really see it as a sign that they’re wanting to drop the project. Just re-evaluating.

“I do believe that once Park Avenue actually breaks ground, their interest will increase.”

When that happens, Von Klug said the city will contact Colony again to discuss its interest in the convention center project.

“Park Avenue is going to totally absorb us as a (city) staff for six to eight months until the beginning of construction,” she said. “Unless Colony were really knocking at the door, and they’re not, (it can wait).”

Harveys is continuing to work on the convention center process, according to Jim Rafferty, Harveys senior vice president of corporate marketing.

“The dynamics are that Park Avenue has to go first,” he said. “The city doesn’t have the bonding capacity to do both.”

Rafferty compared it to a train where the first car moves ahead of the others.

“Harveys is spending a significant amount of money continuing the process, developing, testing, researching and working with agencies,” he said. “The project keeps on moving forward. It’s just the way the energy goes. It’s focused on Park Avenue to get that rolling.

“We’re continuing to work on the details of the (convention center project).”

Construction on the convention center project is probably four years off, Von Klug said. Groundbreaking could occur as early at 2003 or sometime by 2006.

However long it takes, developers and city officials are confident it will have its day, just that the day will be after Park Avenue’s.

The Park Avenue domino had to fall before Project 3 could move forward, Feldman said. “It’s not intelligent to commit resources to move Project 3 forward until then.”

But, with Park Avenue moving ahead, Feldman added that now it’s time to get started on the answers to Project 3 questions including its disposition and development agreement.

“Obviously, this is one of the most, if not the most exciting time in the history of this community,” Feldman said. “We’re changing the character of, not only the residents’ experience, but the guests’ experience as well.”

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