High hopes for Ritz-Carlton | SierraSun.com

High hopes for Ritz-Carlton

Ryan Salm/ Sierra SunHeavy machinery up-roots trees and moves dirt at Northstar-at-Tahoe Ski Area on Wednesday. Northstar is currently in a phase of heavy development including the building of the Highlands by Ritz-Carlton.

More than 200 guests gathered at the Northstar-at-Tahoe resort Wednesday and celebrated the beginning of construction of a $300 million Ritz-Carlton hotel project that developers say will be world famous.

As a bagpiper serenaded guests and hotel and development officials dug their silver-plated shovels into the earth at the groundbreaking, hopes were high for the first Ritz-Carlton hotel to be built at a ski resort in Northern California.

“When we open this hotel in two and a half years, it truly will be the greatest mountain resort hotel in the world,” said Harry Frampton, chairman and founder of the development firm East West Partners.

Another speaker, Booth Creek Resort’s Julie Maurer, quoted Mark Twain, saying, “Surely this is the finest view the world affords.”

The 173-room hotel and accompanying timeshare and condominium units overlook the Martis Valley, the Carson Range and portions of Mount Rose.

“This is sure to propel Northstar into one of the top-10 resorts in North America,” Maurer said, referring to both the residential and village construction and the new upgrades planned for the mountain.

The project, complete with a 19,000-square-foot spa, is expected to open in 2009. A gondola will connect the new Northstar Village and the hotel area, which in the coming years will be surrounded by the 1,450 condominiums of the Highlands project.

East West Partners and Ritz-Carlton had been working on solidifying the Northstar deal for six years, Frampton said.

The luxury hotel project is just one of the many pieces to East West Partners’ massive plans for resort development for the Truckee-Tahoe area.

The company that has built across Colorado, Utah, South Carolina and other states now has developed its largest resort operation of all in the Truckee and North Tahoe area, said Roger Lessman, the company’s managing partner for the area.

The company now owns three 18-hole golf courses; has built, or is building, thousands of residential units from Northstar to Truckee; owns the now-private Wild Goose restaurant in Tahoe Vista and owns portions of the Village at Northstar.

The Ritz-Carlton addition just adds to the area’s appeal, Lessman said.

“I think the Ritz will have a very positive effect on the economy of the region,” he said. “The fact that there has never been a five-star resort lodge here is amazing.”

East West, however, has run into a few kinks this construction season.

Last week the regional water board that enforces water quality issues in the area issued violation notices to the developers of the Village and Highlands projects at Northstar.

Similar to violations that stopped earth work at Northstar Village in November of 2004, the new violations had to do with the contractors’ inadequate protection of water quality.

Unlike 2004, there was no actual effect on water quality, apart from sediment that was dumped into a dry, season creek bed, said Eric Taxer, water resource engineer with the Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board.

The issues, although not particularly egregious, were numerous, Taxer said.

“They do have quite a bit of area opened up,” said Taxer, who recently toured the site and wrote up a report. “But that is certainly not an excuse for not appropriately implementing the [Best Management Practices].”

Taxer said the contractors had done extensive earth moving for road construction without having satisfactory water quality protections in place.

The water board is now requiring the contractors to do mandatory, weekly “tailgate meetings” on water quality and do daily inspections of the site.

“We are considering further enforcement action,” Taxer said.

But Lessman, to whom the violation notice was addressed, seemed unconcerned.

“I think it’s resolved,” he said.

He said he sees similar issues on other construction sites around the area, and wondered why the water board specifically targeted them.

“We pride ourselves, and our contractors pride themselves, on doing things right,” Lessman said.

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