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Planning Commission Considers Turtle Bay Hotel Plan

 After a meeting that lasted more than four hours, Redding Planning Commissioners voted Tuesday evening to continue the discussion on Turtle Bay Exploration Park’s proposed hotel on Sept. 28. This would give the commissioners more time to gain additional information before deciding on the plan.

The commissioners’ decision followed much public input by more than a dozen presenters and public speakers who represented such factions as nearby neighborhoods, the fire department, Redding hoteliers, the consulting architect and Turtle Bay’s CFO and attorney.

Overall, “concerned” might be the best word to sum up public opinions expressed during Tuesday’s Planning Commission meeting regarding the concept a three-story hotel and restaurant on Turtle Bay property.

Once the floor was opened to public comment, most people weren’t exactly opposed to the project, rather, concerned that the proposed plan might not be adequate to address a variety of issues like parking spaces, emergency exits, pedestrian and bicycle traffic, and a “user-unfriendly” layout.

“I appreciate Turtle Bay and think it’s a valuable asset to the community,” said Dave Gerard, a Garden Tract resident for some 20 years.

“But I object to it going outside its goal and mission to generate its own income,” saying a hotel in the proposed area will “shoehorn” it into the existing park.

Fellow Garden Tract resident and river trail enthusiast Jim Kennedy doesn’t feel the plan properly addresses bicycle lanes and traffic.

“Please suspend the hotel plan until there is a thorough master plan for the entire area,” he said, likening the trail to a “red carpet” of the area.

The proposal calls for a three-story, 130-room hotel to be built in what’s now Turtle Bay Museum’s parking lot. Additionally, the layout of the park would be restructured and the current entrance and gift store converted into a hotel lobby and 80-seat restaurant. The entrance would be reconstructed on the café side of the park, replacing about 2,400 square feet of walkways and landscape.

 “I have one four-letter word for the project, and that is no-no,” said Marjy Cantrell, who moved to Redding in 1947.

“Turtle Bay is not a destination. It’s not Disneyland, it’s a place to drop in. I’m not opposed to the idea of a hotel, just not there.”

Cantrell and Gerard would like to see the hotel not be constructed so near the park, but instead closer to Highway 44, where it was originally conceived.

A drawing of Turtle Bay’s proposed hotel, from the city’s Planning Commission staff report. More maps and images can be found on the last pages of the 44-page report.

Widely noted for its shade, the parking lot is host to a number of trees. The current proposal calls for the replanting or transplanting of roughly 39 trees from the parking lot to accommodate the new site.

“It’s going to make a congestion problem,” Cantrell said. “We shouldn’t sacrifice what’s already there.”

Gerard also expressed concerns of the local business community, especially those in hospitality, would be adversely affected.

A spokesperson for Azul Hospitality Group, the hotel management company that would oversee the development and operation of the hotel, said that “Hotels in Redding are doing pretty well,” and that Redding’s tourism and hotel vacancy rates didn’t dip during the peak of the recession like much the rest of the state.

“From the beginning, the association said that if this project was another AAA, three-diamond deal, we’ll oppose it,” said Steve Gaines, of the Redding Hotel/Motel Association. “But if it’s important for the promotion of conventions, then we’ll support it … It may come as a bit of a surprise to many of you, but the Hotel Association does not oppose this project.”

Run by Azul, the hotel would franchise with Starwood Hotels’ Sheraton brand, which advocates say would bring new customers into town, as there is currently no Starwood property.

There are currently 312 parking spaces (which originally used estimations of 300,000 visitors annually), and the proposed plan would increase that number to 370 multi-use spaces. The idea is people can use the spaces for park visitation (about 150,000 people use the park annually), as well as for hotel parking. 

Another point of contention about the proposed hotel was some people’s fears that the project might  obscure the scenic views so paramount to the area. James Theimer, principal architect at Trilogy Architecture, who is designing the project, addressed these concerns.

“At the end of the day, the hotel is only 36-feet-tall,” said Theimer.  “It would not obscure the bridge, and would actually hidden behind trees that are taller than it.”

What’s more, Theimer said that taking into consideration the area’s other architectural edifices – the monolith, visitors center, Convention Center and the Sundial Bridge – he plans to tie the varying styles of architecture into the aesthetics of the hotel.

Additionally, Theimer envisioned the hotel with a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification. Hotels, and other commercial buildings, he said, are responsible for the majority of energy use in the country.

Turtle Bay, a nonprofit, is adding a for-profit arm to its organization, to which the revenues of the proposed hotel would be granted. The organization is also applying for funds from Prop 84, which provides grants for nature-education facilities. Those monies, Turtle Bay attorney Arch Pugh said, will not be used for the hotel construction costs.

The city ended its general fund contributions to Turtle Bay some months ago and the idea of a hotel is Turtle Bay’s effort to generate its own income. The hard construction costs for the project are estimated at $15 million. About half that money, Turtle Bay officials said, will be funded through two large organization supporters.

The meeting’s agenda included other topics of discussion, but after some hours, the commissioners stalled at a 3-3 vote on approving the hotel. A second vote, 4-2, continued the discussion at the commission’s next meeting, Sept. 28 at 4 p.m. in the City Council chambers.

Among the stipulations for the continuation were those regarding revising pedestrian and bicycle connectivity.

Currently, there is no motion to have the next meeting open to public hearing, but the Commission may vote to open the floor during the meeting.

“This was some most the productive and non-combative public testimony I’ve heard since I first sat on the commission,” said Middleton, who said he would like the Sept. 28 meeting open to public comment.

Joshua Corbelli likes to write stuff on paper, and that makes him a happy little jellybean. Reach him at joshua.corbelli@gmail.com. Or don’t. Your call.