Is Ski Run Boulevard the future downtown of South Lake Tahoe?
The renovation of two older buildings into sleek modern offices is just the beginning of the vision local business owners Corey Rich and Chris McNamara have for Ski Run Boulevard in South Lake Tahoe.
With the help of Tahoe-based Sierra Sustainable Builders, Rich and McNamara renovated a small cabin off of Ski Run Boulevard on a budget this summer. The space serves as a temporary office while the duo works on renovating another large office space next door.
Rich, the photographer and videographer behind Corey Rich Productions, is also a part of a larger production company, Novus Select, which will be moving from Portland, Maine, to South Lake Tahoe when renovations on the larger office space are completed. Rich, who contributes to publications like National Geographic Adventure and Sports Illustrated, previously worked out of his home in South Lake Tahoe.
“I think South Lake Tahoe is perceived as a diamond in the rough. We are kind of the other side of the tracks in Tahoe, when frankly we believe that there is the most potential in South Lake Tahoe. We have a large enough community that we can sustain real businesses. I think it was happenstance that we were looking to buy an office space and we landed on Ski Run Boulevard,” said Rich.
“As we got closer to Ski Run, we realized, holy cow, this could be the downtown of Tahoe, not just South Lake Tahoe. There really is no cooler stretch of road, in my opinion, in Tahoe. The distance between the mountains and the water is so short, and there is not highway traffic running through.
“And so we are realistic that, while our steps are small steps, hopefully it’s the foundation for others to adopt that same attitude and put that same amount of energy and pride into this community — because I think there is a lot of opportunity.”
McNamara, a climbing guidebook author, real estate developer and creator of the gear review website Outdoor Gear Lab (just to name a few of his titles), said renovation of these office spaces is the first step in creating a centralized, pedestrian-friendly downtown area.
“It’s kind of this experiment I’ve been doing for the last six months. Can we start bringing in really interesting people, hopefully create a model that will inspire other businesses to do the same, and try to create a long-term employment economy and not just a seasonal?” said McNamara.
McNamara pointed to Tahoe Mountain Lab — a shared office space in South Lake Tahoe founded in 2014 by Jesse Walker, Jamie Orr and David Orr — as a great example of an establishment that attracts workers and businesses to the Basin, ultimately diversifying the economy.
But business development also directly ties into the need for more affordable housing options, which McNamara also is working to bring to Ski Run.
In addition to owning two rental properties in South Lake Tahoe, McNamara recently purchased two lots behind Blue Angel Café on Ski Run, which he plans to develop into high-density affordable housing.
“I took two lots that could just be standard spec houses, but I am trying to make it into high-density housing. Ideally I can put businesses on the bottom and residential on the top.”
He hopes to begin construction in a year.
Motivated by Tony Hsieh’s downtown project in Las Vegas and the book that inspired Hsieh, “The Triumph of the City” by Ed Glazer, McNamara has created his own plan for Ski Run.
“For a decade, I assumed that Tahoe’s (especially South Lake’s) poor urban layout was just the way it would always be. As I came across great small towns around the world, from Carbondale, Colorado, to Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland, I saw their vibrant attractions as something that could only arise from pre-car urban planning. I figured that to get my own dose of a great small town I would have to travel,” McNamara wrote in his plan.
“I began to see that behind great mountain towns in Colorado were regular people taking focused action over time. And I began to see more and more of those people around Lake Tahoe.”
In his plan McNamara has set personal goals for 2016 and 2017, as well as long-term goals he hopes to achieve by 2030.
Some of those goals include raising the bar on architectural standards for housing while on a budget, attracting new restaurants and a coffee shop to open on Ski Run Boulevard, and acquiring more properties on Ski Run for eventual development.
Creating more mountain bike trails and climbing routes are projects that McNamara sees as integral in making Tahoe the “U.S. Outdoor Hub.”
“I’m not inventing this goal; hundreds of people before me have worked hard to make Tahoe better,” expressed McNamara. “Instead, I’m announcing my goal (semi) publicly … to keep myself accountable, as in, ‘I said it publicly, so now I’m committed,’ [and] to inspire others to give back more to their communities today, not when they get old and/or dead.
“The whole vision depends on having others join and/or continue their great work. I’ve received huge inspiration from Tahoe Mountain Lab, [Tahoe Area Mountain Biking Association], [Tahoe Adventure Film Festival], Tahoe Fund, Tahoe Prosperity Center, and [Tahoe Regional Young Professionals].”
Both McNamara and Rich have lived and worked in South Lake Tahoe for over 15 years.