Moonshine Ink |

Mark Tanner was recently interviewed by Moonshine Ink for a recent feature on Martis Camp

Every summer weekday afternoon a flood of pickup trucks disgorges from the towering gatehouse that guards the road into one of the most coveted luxury home addresses in the nation. A motorcade of trucks draped in power tools and ladders winds through the southwest corner of Martis Valley, creating a minor daily traffic jam as the trucks wait to turn onto Highway 267.

Conventional wisdom declared the construction industry dead as the housing market slumped through one of its deepest recessions in history during the past five years. But a luxury home development named Martis Camp has bucked the nation-wide real estate trend, selling hundreds of millions of dollars of luxury homesites and almost single-handedly resuscitating a Truckee/Tahoe construction industry that was on life support following the housing collapse.

While other Truckee and North Tahoe housing projects have gone dormant or bankrupt, each day an estimated 1,300 construction workers, plumbers, electricians, and masons enter Martis Camp to build the 110 homes that are currently under construction in the private enclave. More than 4,000 Martis Camp contractor passes were given out this year for building projects, and Martis Camp officials estimate that $150 million worth of construction activity occurs at the 2,177-acre luxury home development each year.

“If there was no Martis Camp, Truckee would be in big trouble,” said Mitch Clarin, a Truckee contractor and Realtor. “Most of the contractors who are working are working there.”

Mark Tanner, whose construction company has built six homes in Martis Camp and is currently working on four more, said the luxury housing project supplied work when his company needed it most. At the height of the building boom in 2006, Mark Tanner Construction had 63 employees, but as the housing market slumped, he had to cut the majority of his staff, and ended up with fewer than 10 employees.

“Now we’re back to where we were, and most of that has to do with Martis Camp,” said Tanner.

The scale of Martis Camp, both in terms of the number of homes and the size and detail of the homes constructed, makes the project a huge job generator for the region. When completed, the development will have more than 650 homes. And with homesites starting at $500,000 and fetching prices as high as $2 million, the homes being built are meticulously designed, labor-intensive, multi-million-dollar showpieces.

One home recently profiled in the article “Silicon Valley’s High-Tech Mountain Retreat” totaled 7,188-square-feet, and was priced at $11.85 million. The mansion features a window-walled meditation loft and a Moroccan-themed three-screen movie room displaying a Truckee River watershed mural made of blue ostrich leather.

Tanner said the homebuyers attracted to Martis Camp are a segment of the luxury real estate market that Truckee and Tahoe have rarely seen before.

“At Martis Camp you are getting a whole different breed of money,” said Tanner. “These are not people who are building their second home, they are building their third or fourth home.”

Much has been made in the national media about the connection between Martis Camp’s success and the millionaires and billionaires being minted through the technology boom in Silicon Valley. Martis Camp was featured in a Barron’s story titled “Facebook’s Zillionaire Club,” in which Martis Camp officials said that some of the people buying homesites are Google executives and other technology employees and venture capitalists.

But that is not the only reason for Martis Camp’s success. The community’s golf course, $40-million clubhouse, family-friendly barn area, and private ski connection to Northstar attract ultra-wealthy vacationers who want the luxuries of an exclusive mountain getaway, the full range of outdoor activities, and a family-centric community.

“It’s their country club away from their primary country club,” said Tanner.

Martis Camp officials estimate that construction will continue at a strong pace for the next 10 to 12 years. It will take approximately 20 years for all of the homesites to be built out.

That guarantee of nearly two decades of construction work has not only given work to many local contractors like Mark Tanner Construction, Jim Morrison Construction, MD Construction, and others, it has also attracted some construction companies and architects from outside of the area.

“With so many great options here, most families utilize local architects and homebuilders; however, because of the national interest in Martis Camp, we have been seeing more professionals coming in from outside the region,” said Vangie Wightman, architectural review coordinator for Martis Camp, in an email to Moonshine Ink.

With more contractors bidding against each other for Martis Camp work, some local contractors say that their profits have shrunk.

“There are people from the whole Western United States working at Martis Camp,” said Mike Nethersole, owner of MD Construction. “It is a competitive market out there.”

Tanner said that homesite owners “now want two or three bids, and every dollar has to be watched.”

“It is definitely a tighter market, the margins are much smaller,” said Tanner.

But even if margins have tightened, Martis Camp is still considered “the shining star, the bright hope” of the area, said Pat Davison, executive director of the Contractors Association of Truckee Tahoe.

“There is a feeling that if someone gets work at Martis Camp, it is a good job,” said Davison. And that work has had ripple effects on the local economy, benefiting home furnishing stores, lumber yards, and an array of subcontractors.

Davison and local contractors say they see signs that the rest of the real estate market is slowly picking up. From a record high of 385 single-family home building permits issued in 2005, Truckee dropped to a staggering low of only 29 permits issued in 2009. But since then, permits have slowly begun to tick back up, and remodel permits have risen substantially, according to permit data from Truckee and Placer County.

The contractors and subcontractors who have been working at Martis Camp say the housing development made a huge difference for them during the depths of the housing slump.

“I could very easily be at a third or half of what we are now in terms of employees and gross sales if it weren’t for Martis Camp,” said Tanner. “We saw the hard times, but we did not see it as hard as we would have if it hadn’t been for Martis Camp.”