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$300 million Ritz-Carlton Highlands opens today

By: Gloria Young Journal Staff Writer
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One of the most luxurious and expensive private commercial projects in Placer County history is being unveiled today with the opening of the five-star Ritz-Carlton Highlands Hotel at Northstar at Tahoe. The $300 million hotel, part of the international Ritz-Carlton luxury chain and owned by East West Partners, puts Tahoe-Truckee on the map as a world-class resort destination. Some of the high hopes for the resort have already materialized with the creation of much-needed jobs for the tourist area, which has been buffeted by the recession. “It is bringing some great year-round employment opportunities — almost 400 jobs,” Placer County Supervisor Jennifer Montgomery said Monday. “District 5 is facing some tough economic times. These are good jobs. Many of them, I believe, provide the ability for people to continue to live in the Tahoe-Truckee area, when a lot of folks have been thinking about (leaving). This is a way to address that out-migration.” The hiring blitz began in September, with job opportunities ranging from housekeepers and servers, to sales, restaurant managers, engineers, bellmen and parking attendants, according to Steven Holt, Ritz-Carlton Highlands media spokesman. “We have filled a lot, but there are still open positions,” he said. The project will be a boost for county coffers, too. Original projections for the hotel’s transient occupancy tax revenue were estimated at $1.5 to $2 million annually, according to Steve Teshara, president and CEO of the North Lake Tahoe Resort Association. “(Those estimates were) generated before the current economic situation, but it will still be a robust addition to the lodging properties here in North Lake Tahoe,” Teshara said. And early interest in the hotel is high. “We’ve already booked a major conference into the Ritz next month that will virtually sell out the hotel for several days,” Teshara said. The Highlands has 170 rooms including 16 suites, ranging in price from $249 to $4,000 per night. In addition, there are 23 private residences. “The first 12 sold prior to construction,” Holt said. “The next segment of 11 residences will be released around the hotel’s opening date.” The initial release of homes ranged in price from $3 million to $7 million, according to Sue Hyde, director of marketing for Tahoe Mountain Resorts, which will handle the sale of the second release. Pricing for the latest group of homes hasn’t been set yet and Hyde could not confirm if the prices would be similar to the initial offering. “The economy is much different now,” she said. But for interested buyers, there’s a model available for private viewing, she said. The condominiums range in size from 1,600- to 3,400-square-feet for a penthouse. All have a private terrace. Then there are 25 fractional ownership units as part of the Ritz Carlton Destination Club. Those apartments range from the low $200,000s to $700,000 and offer a minimum of 21 days a year at the resort. “There has been a lot of interest in that,” Holt said. Today’s grand opening celebration includes an invitation-only ribbon cutting. The Manzanita restaurant and Highlands Spa, both open to the public, will begin taking reservations on Dec. 11, Holt said. Total size of the hotel complex is about 400,000 square feet, with a 17,000-square-foot spa and fitness center and two ballrooms. “There’s never been a project like this in Lake Tahoe,” Holt said. “It is a world-class destination, and now a world-class hotel to go with the destination.” According to Paul Thompson, deputy director of the Placer County Planning Department, it is not the biggest project in Placer County history, but very significant. “It’s a big project for the Martis Valley and the Tahoe area,” Thompson said. “But it is also one of the bigger projects the county has reviewed over the past few years.” By comparison, Thunder Valley Casino, which opened in June 2003 in Lincoln, cost $215 million to construct and provided 2,000 jobs. The casino, owned by the United Auburn Indian Community, pays Placer County $2.5 million a year in lieu of property taxes and generates approximately $500,000 in sales tax, according to previous Journal reporting. David Snyder, director of the county’s Office of Economic Development, said the Ritz-Carlton will have a significant economic impact on Placer County. “The Ritz-Carlton Highlands is the first new resort development of this magnitude to be built in decades,” Snyder said via e-mail. “It will serve to enhance Tahoe’s stature as a nationally and internationally known destination. … The new property will entice many first-time visitors who will ultimately enjoy attractions throughout the region, contributing to the overall well being of North Lake Tahoe.” Gloria Young can be reached at gloriay@goldcountrymedia.com ---------- Ritz-Carlton Highlands — by the numbers Construction cost: $300 million Size: approximately 400,000 square feet 154 guest rooms and 16 suites 23 private Ritz Carlton residences 25 Ritz Carlton Club fractional ownership units 17,000-square-foot spa and fitness center Two ballrooms: 6,600 square feet and 3,200 square feet Restaurants: Manzanita, the hotel’s signature dining establishment run by Bay Area celebrity chef Traci Des Jardins, will begin accepting reservations on Dec. 11; and Mountain Blue Market will offer casual counter service Considering a Tahoe getaway? Room rates range from $249 to $4,000 per night Thinking more long-term? Fractional ownership condos range from the $200,000s to the $700,000s Want to live there? The initial offering of 12 Ritz-Carlton residences, put on the market when construction began three years ago, sold for $3 million to $7 million each. An additional 11 units will be for sale soon with prices not yet announced.