When Luis Ramallo came to California from Argentina in 1988, he came with a plan to build a future for his family. He didn't know then that the idea would launch him into something more like the 25th Century.
Ramallo calls himself a "Resident Alien," the title he once had on his Green Card before becoming a U.S. Citizen. It's where his idea for Alien Fresh Jerky came from, a business he started in 2000 that has become a tourist trap along I-15 in Baker, California with some 750,000 visitors every year. Now he's taking that alien theme and expanding with a $30 million hotel project.
"It's not insane," Ramallo says. "It's visionary."
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The plans for the 31-room, full-size spaceship hotel will allow for guests to stay the night in alien-themed rooms and dine in an alien-themed restaurant. Developers broke ground Tuesday.
The hope is to draw Sci-Fi fans to enjoy an alien-themed lobby, spa and nightclub. Alien-uniformed employees will use modern touch-screen technology to check in guests; guests will walk through hallways that look like they're on a Star Wars set, with photo ops and alien charging pods throughout.
But it won't be cheap. Rooms are expected to start at $750 a night and as much as $1,000 a night.
"It's unique," Ramallo says. "If you want to experience the unique, you have to pay."
Ramallo's Alien Fresh Jerky has a near cult-like following for those who pass by between Los Angeles and Las Vegas. Visitors who stop in now through July 19 will have an opportunity to use an in-store kiosk to donate to a crowdfunding site to help pay for the project.
Lee Decker from Sherman Oaks donated Tuesday, one of the first since the Kickstarter campaign started. He sees the project as a no-brainer for sci-fi fans such as himself.
"I can't wait to actually spend the night in a spaceship. It's probably gonna blow my mind," he said. "It's totally worth it."
Others question the mix of madness and genius in the plan. Baker boasts no more than 700 residents with broken windows in bankrupt businesses lining the few streets that connect it to I-15. The project hopes to add 100 jobs to the area with more to come. Ramallo says he wants to build an entire alien colony, complete with the "Mothership Shopping Center" for outlet stores and a possible stadium or convention center to lure Comi-con one day.
"Nothing in the world today will be like this," Ramallo says. "We're gonna make you believe, like I believe, that you are inside a spaceship."