Large tax incentive seals the deal for new hotel, conference center in Oakhurst
BY WILLIAM RAMIREZ
County leaders this week cut a deal to build a multimillion hotel and conference center in eastern Madera County.
The Madera Board of Supervisors unanimously approved plans on Tuesday, Oct. 16, with Yosemite Resort, LLC, during the “On the Road” meeting in Oakhurst, providing the development group with the a major economic incentive to build the $25 to $30 million “upscale” hotel near the Hounds Tooth Inn, on the north end of Oakhurst.
The incentive will give the development group 50 percent of the transient occupancy tax from the proposed hotel over 25 years. TOT is a tax placed on lodging costs in California and varies from region to region. In Madera County, the TOT tax is 9 percent.
District 5 Supervisor Tom Wheeler estimated the county and the development group will split $15 million over that quarter-century.
“What we’re asking for is simply to allow us to recoup the cost of something that is a benefit for everyone,” said Gautam Patel, principal of Yosemite Resort, LLC.
Under the terms of the deal, the development will include at least 120 rooms and a 10,000-square-foot conference center with the capacity to accommodate up to 500 people. Additionally, the team-building facility will feature activities including ziplining, challenge courses, and downhill zorbing.
In order for the group to receive the incentive, it must meet a number of criteria, including the 120 room and 10,000-square-foot minimum for the hotel and conference center, respectively; a minimum of $20 million of taxable assessed value on the property; and finishing construction within four years.
Once operational, the facility could bring at least 80 jobs to the area.
Patel, who grew up in the Bay Area, said there is no other lodging option like this is Madera County. His inspiration for this project was what his friends within the technology industry told him they were looking for when planning a company retreat.
The approval came after presentations from Patel and Sean Kirkpatrick, Madera County senior administrative analyst, before a packed Oakhurst Community Center, followed by input from community members.
Supervisors praised the hotel, saying it would help bring tourism revenue to the community outside of eastern Madera County’s summer peak season. District 2 Supervisor David Rogers called the project a “stroke of genius.”
“This would expand the tourism economics, which the county has been striving to do in its goal setting for a number of years,” Rogers said. “There’s a multiplier effect here, any dollar that is brought into the community is going to multiply four times.”
The project was supported by the Madera County Yosemite visitors bureau, Oakhurst Chamber of Commerce and Bass Lake Chamber of Commerce.
“We’ve needed a conference center in this community for many, many years,” said Rhonda Salisbury, CEO of the Visit Yosemite Madera County. “For so many years, we have been a pass-through to Yosemite. We want to be a destination, we want to be a year-round destination.”
Not everyone in the community was enthusiastic about the large incentive. Some in the audience argued such an incentive amounted to the county favoring this lodging over other businesses.
“If it’s such a great idea, then come up with the money yourself and don’t ask the government for an incentive on this,” said John Pero, of Oakhurst. He said the project would create an “uneven playing field.”
Mark Choe, director of sales and marketing for The Pines Resort in Bass Lake, said he supported the project and the likely positive effect it would have in the community but also said he hoped other businesses such as his would also be granted similar incentives in the future.
Patel countered by arguing the developer wouldn’t recoup the costs of building the center without the tax break from the county.
With the county’s approval, the next step is now moving full force with design and construction and Patel said ground could be broken as soon as early 2019.
“We already have a civil engineer lined up, we already have the architect, we already have the structural engineer, so we already have everything to go. We’ve been waiting on this for a while, now we’re just starting with the plans full-on,” Patel said. “We will essentially start designing this tomorrow because we were just waiting on this.”