Despite lack of details, Lake Tahoe residents hopeful historic Cal Neva will be restored to former glory
September 3, 2018
The historic, and presently shuttered, Cal Neva will remain a casino and hotel when it reopens.
Beyond that simple statement, details and plans for the property remain unfinished and undisclosed — a point realized by many of the roughly 100 people who circulated through the Incline Village Library on Aug. 23 for a meet and greet hosted by members of the Cal Neva project.
As those project members explained, plans for the property are not at the point where they can be shared with the public.
Rather, Thursday's meeting was a chance for the public to express their thoughts and submit questions regarding the project.
Some expressed appreciation for being included in the process. Others said the meeting amounted to an empty gesture intended to placate locals.
Regardless of feelings toward the meeting itself, those who spoke with Tribune exclaimed excitement that something was finally being done at the dormant property.
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"I'm glad they're going to keep most of what's there," said Incline Village resident Jim Croley. As best Croley could tell, he said the project appears to demonstrate "respect for the environment and respect for the history."
A post-meeting statement from the Cal Neva project team affirmed those feelings.
"At the listening session, the project team was able to hear directly from community members about their ideas and thoughts for the property," the statement read. "The project team also shared many details about the project to include that the project planning entails reopening a lodge and casino on this property, similar to previous uses. And on the environmental front, we also shared that it will deliver significant improvement to the water quality, scenic and energy efficiency."
Earlier this summer, crews started removing a series of blighted cabins east of the former hotel and casino located on the California-Nevada state line. The project, which is limited to the removal of the cabins, will both reduce fire risks and lead to environmental improvements, the Tribune previously reported.
Project officials anticipate removal of the cabins will be completed by the end of the fall season.
As for details for the rest of the property, those remain largely unknown.
"The owner, architects and planners are working with the regulatory agencies to explore various options and they are still working on overall plans for the project," explained the statement from the Cal Neva project team.
New casino could be economic 'shot in the arm'
While the cabins are the site of the current work, many seemed more concerned with the hotel and casino, which was once owned by Frank Sinatra and reportedly frequented by famous guests such as the Rat Pack and Marilyn Monroe.
"Revitalizing Cal Neva is a shot in the arm for the entire North Shore," said North Shore resident Jackie Viviano.
Reflecting on the history of the property, Incline resident Tim Callicrate said the casino's showroom, if revitalized and reopened, could be a "jewel box" for the entire lake.
"It's a one-of-a-kind opportunity," added Callicrate, an Incline Village General Improvement District trustee who is running for reelection this year.
At one point in its past, the Cal Neva also served as a community-oriented business, hosting events such as the Incline Star Follies. Callicrate said he hopes the Cal Neva will return to a place where, even if it becomes a high-end resort, it still embraces locals.
While noting the lack of any details, Callicrate said he thought Thursday's meeting was a "good first start" in the effort to engage the community.
The desire to have more details and the excitement surrounding the project were some of the most common points attendees raised with Gary Midkiff of Midkiff & Associates, Inc — a local consulting business that is working on the project.
Midkiff was on hand to talk with attendees, gather feedback and, when possible, answer questions.
"People are understandably curious …" he said, adding many people said they were happy to be included in the process.
Crystal Bay resident Pat Crow was among those people. Crow said she appreciated that the new owners, unlike the previous owners, were giving consideration to their neighbors.
Excited about new ownership
Earlier this year, Lawrence Investments LLC, finished its acquisition of the Cal Neva through bankruptcy proceedings.
Prior to the purchase by Lawrence, a venture capital investment firm headed by Oracle Corp. co-founder Larry Ellison, a Napa Valley-based real estate firm purchased the property in 2013, as previously reported by the Sierra Sun. It closed the resort that same year for a multimillion dollar renovation.
The renovation reportedly hit several roadblocks and funding dried up. The owner filed for bankruptcy in the midst of the renovation in 2016.
Having Ellison involved in the purchase brought some hope to some community members, including Incline Village resident Pete Todoroff, who called Ellison a "first class person."
"To do this — 'what do you as a community want us to do?' — he didn't have to do that," Todoroff said of the meeting.
On that note, Viviano said the actions by the project team have the potential "for creating good will," which she said was clearly the intent of the meeting.
Croley echoed those sentiments, noting that the meeting felt like a box that had to be checked.
"It's a little weird," he said.
However, he repeated his appreciation that the community was being included, adding that he expected them to host many more meetings going forward.
The project team is in the process of determining the details for future meetings.
"In balance with the surrounding environment and community character, the project will deliver on a long-standing reputation of utmost quality and caring. It is expected to bring significant environmental and economic benefits to the region. We look forward to connecting back again with our community to share more details."