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Stalled 142-room Auburn hotel could get $2.5 million in fed funds

By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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Stalled plans to build a 142-room, upscale Marriott inn in Bowman could get a $2.5 million jumpstart from federal funds. Under a proposal that Placer County is taking to the state Department of Housing and Community Development, federal grant money would be freed for public improvements ranging from sidewalks along Bowman Road to installing a fire tank with a hydrant. The funding is similar to other multimillion-dollar community development block grants the county has received in recent years, most notably for The Plaza and Rock Creek Center improvements along Highway 49. Rich Colwell, Placer County assistant CEO, said the Hill Top Center project is considered a potential catalyst for redevelopment efforts in and around the Foresthill exit business area. About halfway between the Bay Area and Sierra ski resorts, the commercial district is a popular food and gasoline stop but also has several motels. Besides a potential increase in hotel room taxes for the county, the Hill Top Center Marriott would give skiers another reason to stay overnight in Auburn and wine country tours from the Bay Area and Tahoe a more luxurious destination to spend more time in the Auburn area, Colwell said. While the project has been approved for a year, lack of construction has kept it low on the radar of some nearby businesses. The hotel site – a knoll with sweeping views of the Sierra now overgrown with brush and grass – has been touted as a future hotel location for at least two decades. Diane Deakins, Sweetpeas restaurant co-owner, said it hasn’t been talked about for a long time. “I heard about it several years ago but I thought they shot it down,” Deakins said. “I hope that with the economy, it works out well for them.” The ambitious Hill Top Center development proposal gained county Planning Commission approval 12 months ago but no construction has started in economic conditions that make it difficult to finance new ventures. Hilltop LLC managing member Hoss Bozorogzad wasn’t available for comment Wednesday but county documents indicate the estimated cost of the complex is $29 million. The first phase of construction would see completion of a 127-room main hotel building, pool and deck area. A mixed-use building would follow, including a restaurant, commercial and retail on the ground floor and 15 hotel suites on the second floor. Colwell said a block-grant funding request usually takes about four months to process. The county Facility Services Department and Redevelopment Agency have put in $4 million in wastewater flow upgrades in the Bowman area that should help future growth like the Hill Top development, Colwell said. That should be completed in November. The hotel itself should provide significant economic benefits beyond its impact on the local hospitality industry, Colwell said. It’s expected to create 75 full-time jobs. “It will have a very synergistic effect,” Colwell said. “The base of businesses needs to be maintained but what’s really needed is a new anchor business to come in.”