Napa County after a year of research remains interested in managing the Lake Berryessa resort renovation effort, but wants a little more information before taking the plunge.
A key piece of information could be known by the end of the month. The county wants to offer 55-year contracts to run resorts, but needs permission from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation for this longer-than-usual time frame.
Meanwhile, county staff is reviewing a 434-page Lake Berryessa marketing report done by Ragatz Realty. The company is to present this report at the Aug. 1 Board of Supervisors meeting.
Deputy County Executive Officer Molly Rattigan gave a preview to supervisors on Tuesday. A survey of more than 3,000 people in the region found that 92 percent are interested in visiting Lake Berryessa, if it has the right facilities.
“That’s very good news,” Rattigan said.
Supervisor Alfredo Pedroza sees the county making progress, even though it has yet to reach its day of decision.
“I think this is an exciting time for Lake Berryessa,” Pedroza said.
For a half-century, Lake Berryessa reservoir has had seven resorts spread along its 165-mile, federally owned shoreline. The Bureau of Reclamation in 2006 adopted a master plan to renovate the resorts with new marinas, lodges, campgrounds, restaurants and other features.
In 2009, the agency received $4.4 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act money to level five of the resorts so new operators could start from scratch.
But the Bureau’s search for concessionaires to redevelop and run the resorts remains stalled after several false starts, with annual lake visitor estimates falling from 1.5 million during the resort heydays to 500,000 in recent years. The agency last year asked Napa County for help.
Since then, Napa County has explored whether it might succeed where the Bureau has failed so far.
Rattigan said the county has more flexibility than the Bureau. For example, instead of issuing a request for proposals and waiting for potential concessionaires to respond, the county can market the Berryessa opportunity to resort companies.
Also, about 300 companies worldwide do this type of resort development. Some may not want to work with the federal government, Rattigan said.
The Bureau of Reclamation offered 30-year contracts when it sought new Lake Berryessa concessionaires. At the end of the contracts, the marinas, parking lots, water systems and other infrastructure installed by the companies would be owned by the federal government.
Rattigan said having the county offer a 55-year term would give concessionaires a better chance to recoup their investments. She and County Counsel Minh Tran traveled to Washington, D.C. in March to try to convince the Bureau of Reclamation. She expects an answer by the end of the month.
Staff wouldn’t recommend the county proceed unless it can attract resorts that will do more than offer campsites, Rattigan said. Stripped-down versions of the three of the five resorts targeted for redevelopment already offer camping.
A Lake Berryessa resort scene managed by the county would be a return to its roots.
The Bureau of Reclamation turned to the county to develop and manage the original seven resorts in the late 1950 and early 1960s. The county did so, but made the controversial move of allowing concessionaires to lease the public land for mobile homes and trailers.
Amid the ensuing debate, the county in 1974 decided to pull out of the resort management business and let the Bureau take over.
Assessor John Tuteur stepped to the microphone at Tuesday’s meeting to give his perspective. One of his platforms when he successfully ran for the Board of Supervisors in 1972 was to end county management of Berryessa resorts, he said.
But that doesn’t mean he’s opposed 40 years later. Tuteur said circumstances have changed, with the formation of the county Parks and Open Space District and a better grasp on tourism.
“I think the county can do a superb job in helping to run the resorts,” Tuteur said.
The five resorts that the county could manage are Berryessa Point, Monticello Shores, Putah Canyon, Spanish Flat and Steele Canyon. Of these, Berryessa Point and Monticello Shores are closed and the other three are operated in stripped-down versions under interim contracts.
Also at Lake Berryessa, Pleasure Cove Marina and Markley Cove Marina are operating at full strength.