The colorful streetscape is spread across the table. Pennsylvania Avenue. Marvin Gardens. Park Place. A jail flanks one of the corners. The dice are rolled and the player lands on Vermont Avenue. He buys a couple of houses. A little later he adds a hotel.
Homes first, then hotels.
Those are hard-and-fast rules in Monopoly but a similar dynamic is playing out in the Temecula Valley, which has evolved from a quilt of tract home neighborhoods into a tourism destination anchored by the Pechanga Resort & Casino and Wine Country.
In the last couple of years, developers have poured millions into the construction of new hotels or renovations/expansions of existing properties to serve the growing demand for rooms, which is fed by wedding parties, business travelers, sports tournaments and regional events such as the Balloon & Wine Festival and Temecula’s Rod Run. And there’s more to come.
“There still is a need for more hotels,” said Patrick Ellis, president of the Murrieta/Wildomar Chamber of Commerce, in a recent email to Temecula Valley Development. “With the expansion of Southern California Wine Country, the expansion of Pechanga (Resort & Casino) and the growth in the medical industry, there is more demand for locations for visitors and meeting space. I anticipate many more hotels to rise out of the ground all along the 15 and 215 freeways over the next 10 years.”
The region attracts more than 2.7 million visitors each year, pouring at least $712 million into the local economy, according to Visit Temecula Valley. The nonprofit group said that tourism in this region has consistently risen in the past six years.
Visitors attending a Wine Country wedding or scanning booking sites to stay here during the popular Rod Run have often discovered that everything is booked, even on a non-holiday weekend.
To satisfy this voracious appetite for rooms, which is bolstered by Canadian tourists during the winter, Pechanga Resort & Casino just completed a $285 million expansion that includes a new 548-room wing and a resort-style pool area.
In Old Town, the Truax Development Co. is building a 150-room luxury hotel and a new parking garage on Third Street, Jeff Zhang is building a four-story hotel on Fourth Street and a new Best Western Plus is taking shape near the northern entrance to the historic district.
The Fourth Street project — which was approved by the Planning Commission on Wednesday, April 18 — could feature more than 100 rooms if the development team pursues an amendment to the Old Town planning blueprint.
Right now, the blueprint calls for housing on the fourth floor, which would cut the number of rooms at the hotel to around 70. City officials said an amendment could be considered in a year or so, depending on direction from the City Council, which would have the final say.
“Old Town better get ready,” said Commissioner Gary Watts. “With two hotels (Truax/Zhang projects) this place is going to explode with people.”
The addition of the new hotels, counting the Best Western Plus, will boost the number of available rooms in Old Town from around 270 to 570 — give or take the fourth floor of Lee’s project.
There also are new hotels planned in Temecula’s Jefferson Avenue corridor — a Hilton Garden Inn and a Staybridge Suites have been recently approved — and Hilton is building a Home 2 Suites location on Rancho California Road.
In Murrieta, which until 2015 had only one hotel, there are now four hotels including a brand new Courtyard Marriott with the city’s only rooftop bar.
The 183-room hotel, which just opened its doors in December, is already reporting 50 percent occupancy rates, said Amy Batista, Courtyard by Marriott Murrieta general manager.
The Courtyard brand is designed as more of a business hotel than its neighboring Residence Inn by Marriott. That hotel, which features full kitchens, was built first in order to assess the need for hotels in the area, she explained.
“The brand itself is different because it offers different styles and amenities.” said Batista. “It’s also half of the size of the Courtyard.”
Murrieta’s newest hotel is hoping to attract not only a lot of the Wine Country tourists but also business travelers with special features such as the rooftop bar and lounge, grand ballroom and board room.
“Courtyards are big on meetings,” Batista explained. “Businesses can rent out the boardroom for corporate events. In addition, the rooftop and the ballroom can be rented out for weddings or parties. ”
Before the Residence Inn opened, the Comfort Inn & Suites was Murrieta’s only hotel. Hampton Inn and Suites followed in 2017 and a Holiday Inn Express is currently under construction.
“The expansion of the hotel industry in Murrieta has helped tremendously on many levels,” Ellis said. “The two main benefits have been the ability for residents and businesses in Murrieta to have local access to hotels for their family and staff when it comes to events. Whether it’s a family reunion or a sales staff meeting for a local company, having the access so close is amazing.
“The other reason is the revenue for the City of Murrieta. Every city collects Transit Occupancy Tax (TOT), and with now four hotels (and one under construction) the City of Murrieta has seen an increase in that TOT, which goes straight into our general fund, helping with everything from public safety to fixing potholes.”
The major downside to all this activity is the traffic generated by the influx of tourists, who make getting around town more difficult for locals and tax roadways that weren’t designed for such heavy loads.
But officials from Temecula and Murrieta, and the Pechanga Band of Luiseno Indians, are trying to address this infrastructure gap by lobbying the federal government and regional transportation agencies for money to complete projects that have already been started, such as the French Valley interchange, and jump-start projects that have been on the planning shelf for decades.
“We’re worried it’s (the tourism industry) only as good as people’s ability to get here,” said Temecula Mayor Pro Tem Mike Naggar, who helped form the regional committee that is trying to solve the area’s most pressing traffic problems.