New resort, hotel, golf course projects poised to increase Lake County's California tourism profile
Reeling after several wildfires over the past several years, Lake County is attracting several sizable resort and “glamping” projects, a potential boom, especially for the pandemic- struck restaurant and hospitality industries.
. Lake County’s leisure and hospitality sector jobs were down 22% in October from a year before, to 930 from 1,200, according to the state Employment Development Department.
But Lake County’s tourism-related employment is figured to be significantly higher, covering 1,800 jobs when connected businesses are included such as food stores and gas stations, according to the 2019 statewide economic impact report by Visit California.
Welcome back, Konocti
After being closed for over a decade, one of Lake County’s biggest employers, hotels and venues for big-name entertainment started to show signs of renewed life this summer under new ownership.
On Sept. 18, the 3,000-square-foot Boatyard Market convenience store, fuel dock and boat ramp reopened at Konocti Harbor Resort near the south shore town of Kelseyville, just in time to host the NewJen Bass Tournaments weigh-in on Clear Lake that weekend.
“Clear Lake is one of the best large-mouth bass fishing holes in the world,” said Russell Hamel, project manager.
He noted that the $1 billion-a-year bass tournament industry attracts enthusiasts from around the world. The property seeks to host at least a few more tournaments next year.
The first phase of the resort renovation was originally envisioned to reopen in June, but setbacks from the 2018 massive Mendocino–Lake fire, 2019 flooding and pandemic rollback of travel and leisure lodging caused the reopening to be pushed into next spring, according to Hamel.
But visitors who frequented the property in its past life will notice the updates to paint and siding. Aging heating and cooling systems have been upgraded to handle the county’s hot summers and chilly winters.
“Our target audience is the Sacramento area and the Bay Area, and they drive up to two hours to get here and then they have nowhere to stay,” he said.
Around the lake are only a few hundred hotel rooms that quickly fill up from fishing tournaments and weddings at the county’s growing number of wineries. Konocti Harbor Resort plans to bring back 260 rooms.
In addition to the wharf work and hotel rooms, the renovation plan includes a 2,000-square-foot full-service spa, restaurant and two bars plus the reopening of the 1,200-person indoor and 6,000-attendee outdoor concert and meeting venues that attracted large crowds for concerts over the decades.
“It took a number of years to build, and it will take some years to be done completely,” Hamel said. The project timeline now calls for another three to five years of work.
Before it closed in 2009 facing dwindling attendance and financial challenges under the previous ownership, the resort employed as many as 700 at its peak. The refurbished resort won’t likely match that number, Hamel said.
An undisclosed Bay Area family purchased the property in early 2018 for about $5 million. The property had suffered from years of deferred maintenance to the builds and the resort’s dedicated water, wastewater and fire-suppression systems. A “substantial” sum is being spent on upgrades, Hamel said.
The two main sections of the resort are the waterfront and The Havens area farther back from the shore. With the pandemic, the ownership has decided to spend the fall and winter updating just over 100 rooms and common areas such as the restaurant and bar. Gone are the linear miles of carpet, laid down in layers over the years, and in are plank flooring and nicer furniture.
“We’re not trying to build the Four Seasons here, but we want to build a comfortable resort with a clean environment,” Hamel said.
Success with regional vacationers in the pandemic
At Wyndham Destinations’ timeshare resort on Highway 20 in the north lake community of Nice, the 88 one-, two- and three-bedroom units plus penthouse suites has been enjoying an uptick in visitors in the past several months looking for experiences within driving distance from home.
“While we’re continuing to closely adhere to the state’s travel protocols, travel trends this summer and fall have shown a willingness for travelers to vacation closer to home with resorts like the WorldMark Clear Lake that make it easy for Californians to drive to,” Bennett told the Business Journal in an email. “Nationally, more than 90% of our timeshare owners have traveled by car to their destination, and our arrivals mirror that trend.”
Tourism officials in Napa and Sonoma counties during the pandemic have said a starting point in their strategies for building back hotel occupancy and visitor spending to previous levels is to woo back visitors looking for trips within a few hours by car from home. That’s because public hesitance to fly and various international and national restrictions for doing so have pushed the return of those tourists into the future.