Mike Warren, Turtle Bay’s president and CEO, wasn’t kidding when he said the long-awaited Sheraton Hotel project would provide local jobs. On Tuesday, the job of groundbreaking was handed to Digger, the natural science museum’s resident badger.
The short-legged omnivore wiggled out of his carrier, obligingly scooped out a couple pawfuls of dirt and then scampered back into his little crate. Dignitaries then posed for pictures with the ubiquitous shovels.
Gifford Construction of Redding will take over the real work on the $17 million hotel, with completion expected sometime in 2017. Building the 130-room hotel, ballroom and restaurant (the remodeled visitors center) will create 40 to 50 full-time jobs for a year or more and most of them will be filled by local construction workers, Warren said.
When completed, the hotel—the first four-star hotel in the north state—will employ 70 people. It will be built on the parking lot just west of the Paul Bunyan Forest Camp. By its third year of operation, Warren said it is expected to generate $700,000 a year in tax revenue for the city of Redding. The boutique hotel (Sheraton typically requires a minimum of 150 rooms) will be managed and operated by the San Diego-based Azul Hospitality Group.
The hotel has been a looooong time in coming, a fact alluded to frequently by both Warren and Arch Pugh, a member of the Turtle Bay board, during remarks at Tuesday’s groundbreaking ceremony.
The idea of a hotel on the Turtle Bay campus to bolster the nonprofit museum’s revenue first surfaced in 2008. With Turtle Bay’s proximity to the Sacramento River, the Sacramento River Trail system, the nearby boat ramp and the rejuvenated Redding Civic Auditorium, “it made sense to utilize more of this vacant land,” Warren said.
The Board of Trustees agreed, but added the stipulation that the hotel align with Turtle Bay’s efforts toward sustainability and create local construction jobs. Toward that end, Turtle Bay awarded the contract to Gifford and retained James Theimer of Trilogy Architecture, whose Redding-based firm created a LEED-certified (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) plan for the hotel.
“Many dark days” followed, Warren said. The first significant obstacle was posed by the Northeastern California Building and Construction Trades Council, which argued that since Turtle Bay occupied 60 acres of city land and enjoyed a subsidy in the form of a long-term (88 years remaining), rent-free lease, the hotel was a public project and subject to prevailing wage laws.
The state Department of Industrial Relations originally sided with Turtle Bay. A trio of labor unions appealed, a year passed, and the state reversed itself and sided with the unions.
Turtle Bay officials said a prevailing wage requirement would add some $3 million to the project and render it unfeasible. The McConnell Foundation, a longtime supporter of Turtle Bay, then proposed purchasing 14.7 acres from Redding and allowing Turtle Bay to build on five of those acres and skirt the prevailing wage requirement.
That proposal trigged another firestorm, with opponents dismissing McConnell’s $600,000 offer (even though independent appraisers valued the acreage at between $75,000 and $443,000, due to the restrictive lease) and calling the deal a public land giveaway.
The Redding City Council, on a 3-2 vote, approved the sale, which in turn sparked a petition drive that landed Measure B on the November 2014 ballot. Voters approved the sale by a 6-percent margin.
The Sheraton Hotel at the Sundial Bridge will be a record setter, Warren said with a rueful grin. Two claims of dubious distinction: the longest time to get to construction of the smallest Sheraton; and the most attorneys involved in a single project.
Pugh, a former city council member, acknowledged the long struggle and thanked the supporters gathered Tuesday. “This is only the result of all of you that pushed us and supported us,” he said.
Warren thanked previous council members, including Rick Bosetti (who had just returned from Boston where he got to meet his new grandson), and the late Dick Dickerson. Warren also recognized and thanked current council members Missy McArthur, Brent Weaver, Kristen Schreder, Gary Cadd and Mayor Francie Sullivan.
Sullivan, in turn, acknowledged the pioneering work of the late Marcia Howe and Gary Matson, who founded the Carter House Natural Science Museum in Caldwell Park and laid the groundwork for the Alliance of Redding Museums that ultimately led to the creation of Turtle Bay Exploration Park.
“This is an example of ‘We Are Redding’ and shows that together, we can do amazing things,” Sullivan said.
Photos by Jon Lewis.