Some worry as a national company takes the reins from locals to run the historical Camp Richardson Resort. This is on the heels of a months-long appeal initiated by Bob and Tammy Hasset, who managed the resort for 24 years.
ExplorUS and its subsidiary, Advenco LLC, took over the resort Saturday, Jan. 6.
Management of the company said the resort “is entering a new era” as they assumes operations and circulated their Camp Richardson Resort website in their announcement. The new operator plans to invest $12 million into future improvements.
The Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit of the Forest Service selected Advenco in July for the special use permit, with the Hasset’s permit set to expire at the end of October. However, in August, the Hassets appealed the decision.
This triggered a review process; ultimately, forest service officials supported selection of the new company and the appeal process came to a close in December.
The decision has some upset over what a large corporation could do to the culture of the historically significant resort.
The U.S. Forest Service acquired Camp Richardson in the 1960s and has allowed the private sector to operate the resort under a permit since 1985.
LTBMU Forest Supervisor Erick Walker explained that the Forest Service offers these opportunities to bring in creative approaches from the business sector. “That frankly brings different skill sets and abilities than we have,” he said.
While the Hassets operated the resort under the special use permit for 24 years, Walker said the typical permit term is 20 years. The Forest Service can extend the permits for certain reasons, but is eventually required to allow the permit to expire and open up a competitive process to allow other companies a chance to make a proposal.
The Hassets had their term extended four years to make up for construction impacts and allow for the competitive bid process.
The Forest Service solicits the opportunity through a prospectus, which lays out criteria for the permit, minimum requirements and goals for the facility. It also requests company proposals on running the facility as well as their financial approach.
The 'strongest' proposal
Walker said Advenco’s application ranked the strongest of the four companies that applied, including the Hasset’s company.
“Advenco’s proposal exceeded the minimum in more than one category,” Walker explained.
One area of public concern is replacing a local company with an out-of-state national company.
Walker said although one of the Hasset’s strengths is they are valued and involved local community members, that is not a criteria for selection. He supports his pick of the national company “because these are nationally owned assets, and they serve the nation.”
“It’s important that we provide that open and fair opportunity for all proposals," Walker said. "And then we’ve got a duty to select the proposal that we think best serves the greater public over time.”
Walker added that while Advenco’s proposal was the strongest, it by no means implies the Hasset’s proposal was weak, “or that we have any sort of dissatisfaction with them. They just didn’t present the strongest proposal. Nothing against them, it was just that others were stronger.”
Folks at ExplorUS may not be a part of the community yet, but William Boas, vice president of operations for ExplorUS, said it’s important for them to become a community member in all the places they operate, which number more than 60 nationwide.
“People think of Lake Tahoe as a beautiful resort town, but I also know that it is a very tight knit community,” he said. “We want to ingratiate ourselves and become a part of the Tahoe community.”
Hiring existing resort employees is one way the company is doing that. Boas explained that management has hired almost all current off-season employees and is also hiring for multiple positions that are posted online. Management also plans on getting involved in the local chamber of commerce.
Boas noted company management has talked to local experts about the history of the property. He understands the Richardson family intended it to be a family oriented resort — a place for families to enjoy Lake Tahoe.
“That in and of itself, is a charter to us,” he said. “We want to honor that.”
The company is also working with local historic architects to keep historical buildings intact and consulting historic designers to guide decisions on new hotel furnishings going in by summer.
ExplorUS plans to start remodeling the general store and upgrade cabins this year.
The Forest Service’s prospectus lays out changes to the resort that would be required of any company selected.
Forest Service officials said one of those changes is relocating the ice cream parlor, coffee shop and bike rental from the south side of Highway 89 to the north side. Walker said this is intended to reduce traffic congestion and address safety concerns.
Another requirement is the reconstruction of the Beacon Bar and Grill to better serve the public, employees and improve accessibility.
The Forest Service is also requiring reservations be made through the federal reservation system, recreation.gov in the future. The Hasset’s company previously managed a reservation system independently.
“Part of our goal there is to provide some sort of standardized access, so people can see all of their choices across that system,” Walker explained.
Each applicant provided a list of proposed fees for the first three years, but the prospectus notes the holder is only required to honor those prices for the first year and can propose price adjustments with justification thereafter.
ExplorUS officials didn’t answer an inquiry as to whether rates would be raised after the first year, but noted the company understands Camp Richardson is a family resort and will work with the Forest Service to ensure rates are competitive and affordable.
Passing the torch
Boas reports the transition from the Hassets has been effective and hopes the prior operators return to visit the property.
ExplorUS plans on carrying on events previously held at the resort, starting with reviving the Camp Richardson Oktoberfest event and keeping the Rum Runner cocktail on the menu.
In a statement to the Tahoe Daily Tribune, the Hassets recalled their 24 years of welcoming generations of guests: “From unforgettable camping and cabin memories, to gathering with friends and family on the Beacon deck, ordering giant scoops at the ice cream parlor, and to shopping at the general store, those are the core memories of what made Camp Richardson so special."
In their parting letter the Hassets add, “We have enjoyed serving you, our Camp Richardson family, and have loved being a part of your special family moments, vacation memories and as a cherished spot for locals.”
The Hassets run the Camp Richardson Marina and Round Hill Pines Beach Resort, which they say will be the new home for their famous calamari and the original Rum Runner cocktail.