$30 million boutique hotel planned for Three Rivers
It was standing room only at the Three Rivers Memorial Building on Wednesday evening, as more than 100 locals turned out to discuss the future of the small foothill community during a town hall meeting.
Much of the debate centered on a proposed 200-room, $30 million “luxury lodge” off Highway 198 and Old Three Rivers Road.
District 1 Supervisor Kuyler Crocker said the town hall meeting was intended to educate residents and hear their concerns.
“We are much closer to the starting line than the finish line here,” Crocker said of the proposed hotel. “Now is the opportunity to learn and give feedback.”
Dubbed Sequoia Resort and Spa in preliminary site plans, the boutique hotel would feature striking, earthen architecture and offer guests an experience directly inspired by the backdrop of Sequoia National Park.
Because the land is already zoned for hotel construction and abides by the Three River Community Plan, principal partner Guatam Patel could legally begin construction without public hearing.
However, Patel told the packed room he is committed to incorporating community feedback into the project’s design, having already sunk 2.5 years and more than $500,000 into finding an appropriate site.
“We are committed to having a local flair to this. That’s where modern hotel design is going,” he said. “Guests don’t want to sit trapped in their room for three nights. They want to go out and experience the local spots.”
The flair will cost you: Rooms at the resort are expected to run at least $300 a night, Patel said.
That was great news to at least one Three Rivers hotelier, who offers a comparatively humbler — and affordable — stay at the Sequoia Motel a mile up the road from the proposed resort.
“It’s not going to compete with us,” said Chris Schlossin, who opened the 12-room motel 23 years ago. “Three Rivers doesn’t have anything of that caliber. It would be a little glowing star on the map.”
For Schlossin, Airbnb is a much bigger threat to business.
Large groups of tourists rent out vacation homes on the app for rates at which local lodgings can’t compete. The county presented a draft short-term rental ordinance that Schlossin hopes will remedy the situation with occupancy limits on Airbnb homes.
Neither Airbnb or Sequoia Motel is likely to compete with the luxury project Patel envisions, however.
“It’s a high-end place. That’s something the county doesn’t have,” Schlossin said. “It’s encouraging that they’re reaching out to the community. You gotta give the man (Patel) credit for being a good neighbor.”
Patel committed to incorporating local businesses into the hotel’s operation, so long as they “meet a high operational standard,” including a restaurant and retail space. He hopes that the resort could be a draw during the off-season, benefiting local businesses.
“You only have three-to-four months to make your money here. If they could improve business during the shoulder months, that would be wonderful,” Schlossin said.
The bulk of the 102,000-square-foot project will be built offsite, so builders can erect the building in Three Rivers in a matter of days, minimizing disruption to the environment and neighbors, Patel said.
Housing for the hotel’s estimated 30 employees will be included with the project, so as not to further crunch Three River’s long-term rental and housing market.
He also addressed community concerns surrounding water and the area’s fickle water table.
“This is the water nobody else in the community wants, but that we will use and pay dearly to use,” Patel said, pointing to a state-of-the-art company the developer hopes to partner with to treat water and manage effluent.
Besides water, many residents were concerned about the possibility of a rumored incentive to build the $30 million hotel project in Tulare County.
Last year, the Sierra Star reported that Madera County supervisors cut Patel a deal to move ahead with a similar hotel project in Oakhurst, near Yosemite National Park.
The incentive took the form of a 50% rebate on the hotel’s transient occupancy tax over 25 years. TOT is a tax levied on travelers who stay at a hotel for fewer than 30 days.
The rate varies by county. In Tulare County, the TOT is 10%.
Crocker said the county hadn’t settled on a number yet and discussions with developer Patel Group were still ongoing.
“I understand why (the county) would (offer Patel) a deal for an upscale development, but it’s still frustrating that other hotels have to pay the full tax. We didn’t get any breaks,” Schlossin said.
The supervisor pointed out that such arrangements were common and would benefit both the county and the developer, providing financial incentives to build while capturing tax revenue that wouldn’t otherwise exist.
“The TOT rebate is favorable to attract business and generate long-term economic activity and taxable commerce,” Crocker said.
Some at the town hall questioned whether that tax should be used to benefit only the Three Rivers community, rather than the county’s general fund.
The argument was a no-go for Crocker.
“While Three Rivers does generate more TOT tax, other county communities generate much more sales tax or property tax and we don’t give them special treatment,” Crocker said. “I’m not going to write a blank check to Three Rivers or any other county community.”
The supervisor pointed to a $400,000 restroom project and expansion of the Three Rivers Historical Museum slated to be completed by the of the year.
The project was paid for out of the county’s general fund, Crocker said.