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Plan for Valley to Stateline tram still alive

by Jeff Munson

A plan to move 4,400 people per hour from the Carson Valley to Stateline via a gondola remains in limbo nearly one year after the idea was pitched to Douglas County officials.

The mastermind behind the Funitel gondola, the main transportation feature of a $600 to $700 million luxury resort in the Sierra Nevada above the Carson Valley, says the idea is still in its vision stage but very much a viable plan.

“I have a positive attitude about this because it can be done and will be done eventually,” said Project Director Angelo Morales, of Kingsbury Summit Development.

Based in Incline Village, the company is considering a high-speed gondola that would move passengers between a loading station near David Walley’s Hot Springs outside of Genoa and a second station near Caesars Tahoe, 5.8 miles away.

On its way up, the gondola would pass the “Kingsbury Summit Complex,” a self-contained resort on 66 acres east of Daggett Summit. The complex could have 100,000 square feet of retail space, a 500-room hotel-casino, 300 time share condominiums and 200 employee housing units.

One year ago this week, Douglas County officials took a field trip to Squaw Valley to see a gondola like the one Kingsbury Summit Development wants to put on the slope above the Carson Valley.

While he did not attend the field trip, Douglas County Commissioner Steve Weissinger, who had helped with building a tram at Heavenly Ski Area in the mid 1990s, remains skeptical of the plan.

“I think it is still a wild dream. It has a long ways to come to fruition,” Weissinger said.

The Squaw Valley Funitel can carry up to 4,000 people an hour over its 9,065-foot route. Up to 48 cars that can hold 28 people standing can be attached to the system. Unlike a regular gondola, the Funitel is strapped with two braces, so the cars are able to withstand winds of up to 80 mph. And because the Funitel sits much lower to the ground, it is less visible than a gondola.

Commissioner Don Miner, who went on last year’s tour, said he’s pleased to hear the project isn’t dead.

“It is still very early on in the visioning portion and he still has a considerable amount of work to do, but conceptually I am very much impressed with his vision and desire,” Miner said.

A project outline provided last year by Kingsbury Summit Development estimates the project would cost $600 to $700 million and would create up to 2,000 new jobs. Hundreds of jobs would be created on the construction side of the project, and when finished it would draw plenty of tax revenue to the county, he said.

Morales said finding investors shouldn’t be a problem once solutions are found on acquiring property, which he admits is the difficult part.

While the area originally scoped for the Valley terminal, near Walley’s Hot Springs, could still be used, Morales said he is working with the U.S. Forest Service on another site nearby.

From the Valley end, he’s also considering the use of the old Kingsbury Grade, which he said would be ideal because the property is already an easement. He said the Funitel could crawl up the old grade vertically.

The concept of the resort would remain the same, Morales said. Kingsbury Summit would be aimed at destination resort travelers, with visitors staying a week or longer. The resort would be “world class,” which would strengthen tourism by drawing visitors throughout the year, instead of just in summer and winter, he said.

Morales said the gondola and resort aren’t economically feasible as separate projects, so both must be done if the proposal is to proceed.

“One goes with the other. There needs to be a transportation system. Kingsbury Grade is maxed out, so there needs to be a way to get the people up there without automobiles,” he said.

County officials have said they are skeptical of seeing the project get off the ground because it is lofty, but admire the work Morales is putting into it.

“There’s still a lot of work to be done, but this is worth pursuing,” Miner said. “We won’t have our oar in the water until such time that he brings us a more definitive conceptual plan.”

Weissinger said the project would be a hard sell, especially because amendments to the master plan would have to be made.

“Right now, you’re going to be hard pressed to get three votes to move this project forward,” Weissinger said. “I don’t think the residents that this would affect would support this.”

Morales remains optimistic, saying hard work is needed on all sides to see it through.

“People say this can never happen, but I disagree. I don’t believe in saying never.”