State in talks for Columbia concessionaire proposal

Six park businesses need a new manager

January 4, 2010 

COLUMBIA — The state is negotiating with a potential new operator of the City Hotel and a few other shuttered businesses in Columbia State Historic Park.

The six businesses have been closed since June because the previous concessionaire pulled out.

"There is a company considering submitting a proposal," Sheryl Watson, a spokeswoman for the California Department of Parks and Recreation, said Tuesday. "We don't have a time frame for that yet."

Because negotiations are under way, details are not being released. They include the name and location of the company, the length of the possible contract, and how many of the six sites are involved.

The state is open to proposals from other parties while it negotiates with this company, Watson said.

The businesses are the City Hotel restaurant, saloon and lodgings; the Fallon House lodgings and ice cream parlor; and the Jenny Lind Restaurant, formerly Columbia House. They employed 28 people as of June.

The two hotels have only a few guest rooms, but the City Hotel building is one of the park's signature landmarks and the restaurant is considered among Tuolumne County's best.

The Fallon House Theatre was part of the previous concession package, but it remains open under an agreement with Sierra Repertory Theatre, which also has an East Sonora stage.

The closed businesses are about a third of the total in the park, a one-time Gold Rush settlement acquired by the state in 1945.

Forever Resorts, based in Arizona, was the concessionaire for these businesses until June. Neither it nor any other parties bid on a new contract for the sites in the spring.

State figures in the bid package show that gross income to the businesses has declined in recent years. Potential bidders also might have been put off by the building improvements required in the new contract.

Park boosters have been reminding people that Columbia has several open businesses, along with free exhibits and special events.

But reopening the six sites "would be an excellent thing," said Leslie Davis, event coordinator for the Columbia Chamber of Commerce. "It would draw more people to the park, and they would see what we have here."

Bee staff writer John Holland can be reached at jholland@modbee.com or 578-2385.

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