Frustration over the volatility of the Highway 120 corridor in southern Tuolumne County is one of the main reasons Doug and Jenn Edwards decided to sell one of the two historic hotels they own in Groveland.
The couple sold the Hotel Charlotte for $2 million to Finn Horsley and Brennen Jensen, both of Carmel, after purchasing the property for $1 million in March 2012.
Though they plan to keep the Groveland Hotel, which they purchased for $1.75 million in 2017 and remodeled for $600,000 last year, Doug Edwards said government shutdowns, increasingly intense fires and flooding events, a decline in international visitors, and a lack of investment from Tuolumne County in infrastructure have all combined to make running two businesses in the corridor a bigger headache than it’s worth.
Doug Edwards said they weren’t originally looking to sell the Hotel Charlotte, which they purchased for $1 million in 2012, until they received the offer from Jensen and Horsley.
“It’s been a little daunting the past couple years,” he said.
The couple, who have two children ages 2 and 5, are also planning to move from Groveland to Sonora soon.
If not for the existence of Yosemite National Park, the area’s economic crown jewel for the millions of visitors who flock to it from around the world each year, Doug Edwards said he believes there would be no reason to run a business in the corridor because of the lack of attention it receives from the county despite generating millions of dollars in tax revenue each year.
“It’s too far removed from Sonora and all of the things the county could provide,” he said. “As much as we’ve had stacked against us, we’ve still done really well. ... It’s a huge honey hole for the county.”
Doug Edwards pointed to the more than $30 million Rush Creek Lodge on Highway 120 near the entrance to the park that has infused hundreds of thousands of additional dollars into county coffers each year through the Transient Occupancy Tax, which is 10 percent of the rent charged for hotel and other short-term rentals.
The county is also working with developers on the planning stages for the proposed Terra Vi Lodge about 17 miles east of Groveland, which is estimated to generate as much as an additional $1 million in tax revenue each year.
A quarter of Transient Occupancy Tax revenue goes to the Tuolumne County Visitors Bureau to promote the area, while the rest goes into the county’s General Fund and is distributed at the discretion of the Board of Supervisors.
Doug Edwards said he opposed a recent proposal to increase the county’s Transient Occupancy Tax from 10 to 12 percent because he believes the Highway 120 corridor wouldn’t see an equal proportion invested in improvements for how much it contributes.
“You don’t get to take Highway 120’s money and just neglect us, which is exactly what’s happened,” he said.
Improving infrastructure, such as roads, culverts and watersheds, would make weathering the volatile nature of the corridor at least a little bit easier for business owners, Doug Edwards said.
He cited a poorly maintained culvert behind the Groveland Hotel that failed during historic flooding last year and caused $150,000 in damage to his parking lot.
They have yet to repair the damage while working with the county to determine where the responsibility for maintaining the culvert lies, though Caltrans repaired a culvert about 100 yards away within a matter of months.
“It just kind of shows how little they know about the infrastructure and waterways of Groveland,” Doug Edwards said. “We have this beautiful hotel with a destroyed parking lot now.”
County Supervisor John Gray has represented the Highway 120 corridor since 2009 and said he believes there has been a greater focus on the area in his years on the board.
Gray cited efforts by the visitors bureau to promote the area for tourism during shoulder seasons, a county-operated youth center, library, and satellite offices for various county agencies and business associations in downtown Groveland.
He also pointed to a recently completed $1 million project that repaired Ferretti Road, which was closed for 10 months due to storms in March 2018 that caused a culvert to fail and erosion to a portion of the roadway.
“I want to be positive, because I know how hard we’ve worked and what we’ve done,” he said. “We spend as much money in the Groveland area and sometimes more than anywhere else in the county.”
Gray said he is hopeful a proposed $8 million community resilience center that would be funded by a federal grant will help the town by allowing it to host more events.
Gray said the county is also looking for property to build a park-and-ride that would provide more parking in Groveland, which some business owners have cited as a major need.
“Those are things I’ve worked and continue to work on, but it takes time,” he said.
In response to criticism over the flooding last year, Gray said the county sent probation crews a day after the storm and provided trash containers for a month to assist with the cleanup.
Gray said the county is looking at what it can do to improve the creek that flows through the main part of town and was largely blamed by many residents for the flooding last March due to a lack of maintenance, but it’s made more complex by the fact that it runs through private properties.
The bigger problem, according to Gray, is the lack of people year round to support the businesses in Groveland and along Highway 120. He said the seasonal highs and lows for businesses won’t change much until there’s more growth.
“There’s no magic bullet for Groveland,” he said. “It’s geographically isolated, it’s on the Highway 120 corridor, and its main hook is Yosemite.”