Visitors center moves into the slow lane
The welcome mat has yet to be placed on South Lake Tahoe’s doorstep.
Plans to unveil a new welcome center on U.S. Highway 50 at Echo Summit were tentatively scheduled for last July, but the project has been delayed in the permit process.
“It’s taking a lot longer than we anticipated,” said South Lake Tahoe Mayor Tom Davis. “Nothing in Tahoe moves fast, we’re in slow-mo.”
“Putting together a visitors center requires a lot of preplanning,” said Alex Graf, chief executive officer of the Tahoe Keys Resort. “If everything goes well, we hope to start construction this summer.”
There is already a visitors center coming in from Nevada (Tahoe-Douglas Visitors Center) and one in Meyers, but the Meyers center is an outdoor facility and is not open all year.
For years, Davis and Graf, who are part owners of the Tahoe Keys Resort, have dreamt of building a first-class, year-round visitors center facility. It would provide tourists with a one-stop place to plan their Tahoe itinerary.
The building would be designed to capture the “Tahoe” feel. Davis wants there to be a stone fireplace and vaulted ceilings.
Davis and Graf have proposed that the center be located on an acquired one-acre, commercial-zoned parcel near Sierra-at-Tahoe ski resort – about 15 miles west of South Lake Tahoe.
“There is nothing on Highway 50,” Davis said.
The $1.8 million private venture would be paid for by Graf’s and Davis’ company. “We are in the tourist business and (a visitors center) is a general concern for developing better communication with tourists,” Graf said.
Davis and Graf are still talking to South Lake Tahoe businesses about participation in the center. Businesses would pay a fee to be included in the center’s advertising.
The project would remodel an existing building which housed Bennett’s, a metal sculpture business.
The remodel would include a second-story addition and installation of 47 parking spaces, which would have room for a much-needed motor home turnaround.
Plans also include a large restroom facility with changing tables, a snack bar, advertising message boards and telephones. Davis said the facility would be a solution to the absence of a rest stop facility on U.S. Highway 50.
Graf also wants there to be historical and environmental exhibits.
“We want a place that really tells you about the area you’re going to,” Graf said.
Davis said that a visitors center is vital for Tahoe to be considered a first-class destination resort.
The welcome center would sit next door to a Pacific Bell relay station, and a Caltrans maintenance station is just down the road.
“We’re encouraged that we can put this thing together,” Graf said. “Hopefully it happens, we really need one.”
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