A local economic summit once again stressed that attracting more tourism dollars will be crucial for a healthy future in Del Norte County.
The 10th annual Economic Summit, hosted by the Crescent City-Del Norte County Chamber of Commerce and held in the Elk Valley Rancheria community center featured updates of economic development projects planned or under way.
Local tribes’ resort-focused plans took the spotlight, while updates were also given for infrastructure projects related to the harbor, airport, a redundant broadband network and Crescent City’s Beachfront Park master plan.
Tribes are a huge driver of employment in Del Norte County and that trend holds across the state, as demonstrated in an economic profile provided by Dennis Mullins of California’s Employment Development Department.
“Tribes are driving the state’s economy,” Mullins said. “During this recession, if it weren’t for tribes, the economy would have been more disastrous in California than it was.”
Smith River Rancheria chairperson Kara Brundin-Miller said that the completion of the tribe’s new hotel, expected June 6, will provide more stability to the rancheria while bringing local jobs and money to the community.
The $10 million project will be a full-service hotel with valets and bellmen, an indoor heated swimming pool, fitness center and a geothermal heating and water system, Brundin-Miller said.
Besides a few components like the swimming pool and the geothermal system, Brundin-Miller said, all of the work on the hotel was done by local contractors.
She also highlighted the rancheria’s purchasing of nearby lands to provide housing for the Tolowa people.
Noting the tribe’s language and cultural education projects, she said “to give our kids their identity back has been very important to their self-worth.”
Tanya Sangrey, director of the Yurok Tribe Economic Development Corporation, laid out that tribe’s plans for a new 60-room hotel with 125-150 slot machines, which has already broken ground across from the Yurok Tribe headquarters in Klamath
Sangrey explained how the tribe’s fish processing plant will create a way for tribal commercial fishermen to eliminate seafood-buyer-middlemen and create their own value-added product. She also noted plans to build a smokehouse that can be used by tribal members.
A new Yurok visitor center is expected to break ground in June, Sangrey said, as well as a 125-seat amphitheater with a retractable roof. The tribe has also recently purchased Klamath Jet Boat tours.
Sangrey described long-term plans to rebuild a business district on the old Klamath townsite that was wiped out in the 1964 flood, which is being pursued by purchasing lands near the site, including the Cats RV park.
“The YEDC is working to bring tourism to Klamath, making Klamath a destination, not just a drive-through little town,” Sangrey said.
Larry Johnson, general manager of Elk Valley Casino, said that after five years of uncertainty, the casino recently saw a significant increase in traffic and so did retail sales, which he pointed to as signs of a rebounding economy.
Johnson also said that the Elk Valley Rancheria’s long-awaited plans to build a resort adjacent to Highway 101 will “hopefully” break ground this year.
Jeff Parmer, acting executive director of the Crescent City/Del Norte Visitor Bureau, said that tourism accounts for $102 million of the local economy annually, with the biggest interest of potential visitors, based on keywords searched for on the bureau’s website, being redwoods, camping and ocean/beaches.
“It’s an outdoor playground and the playground is always open,” Parmer said.
Candace Tinkler, chief interpretive ranger for Redwood National and State Parks, said that third-party studies estimate that the park system contributes $40 million to the local economy annually.
Richard Young, harbormaster and CEO of the Crescent City Harbor District, described the port’s plans to increase tourism and recreation in the harbor, concurrent with the tsunami-resistant inner boat basin reconstruction project currently under way.
For Crescent City’s airport, attendants were treated to a virtual 3D video-tour of the proposed new terminal project. The runway safety area project, required by law to be finished by 2015, is still facing hurdles of creating sufficient wetlands to mitigate development, as required by state regulators.
Whether encouraging tourists to fly into town, stay a few extra days while yachting the West Coast, or book a room in a newly built tribal resort, the theme of the summit was about marketing the tourism assets that Del Norte County offers.
“As an economic development tool, telling people what we have is very important and we don’t do that very well,” said Crescent City manager Eugene Palazzo.