Can Tahoe’s Cal Neva Swing Again?

| December 16, 2013 | 0 Comments

The historic Cal Neva looks out on Tahoe–and a brighter future? Photo by Kyle Magin

Written by Laney Olson

During its heyday, Crystal Bay’s Cal Neva Resort and Casino was a social hub, a place where American icons like Frank Sinatra and Marilyn Monroe spent their time. However, those days are long gone. Previous owners took the property through foreclosure proceedings and allowed the once-grand establishment to fall into near-total disrepair.

Robert Radovan of Criswell-Radovan, LLC, a Napa, California, development company, did not want the historic Tahoe landmark to disappear and bought Cal Neva in April 2013.

“It had gotten so deteriorated that you couldn’t just put a Band-Aid on it,” says Radovan.

The resort closed September 5 and the employees were laid off as Radovan began the process of almost completely redoing the hotel. “It was either going to be totally redone or go away entirely,” he says.

“Crystal Bay is one of the top scenic areas around The Lake, yet the general exterior appearance of the Crystal Bay casino area on the scenic highway has been a dilapidated and outdated eyesore that contrasts with the beautiful natural views,” says Elise Fett, an architect who runs her business and owns a home in the burg. The Cal Neva renovations will help change the area’s rough exterior, she says.

Radovan hopes to convert the 219-room, 10-story hotel and 6,000 square foot casino from a one-star hotel to a four-star destination. He hired prominent interior designer Paul Duesing, designer of the Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas, and landscape architect Don Brinkerhoff, who has worked on the Bellagio and the Wynn.

Changes include a brand-new luxury restaurant. The two-story, fine-dining restaurant will provide views of The Lake with a full glass enclosure. The old restaurant will be converted into meeting rooms.

Upgrades will be made to the gaming floor, roof, showroom and exterior. The bedrooms will remain unchanged with the exception of bigger, luxury bathrooms.

The history of the hotel was the biggest reason he took on the project, Radovan says.

“We try to do projects that have a great story to it. Projects that we can pour our hearts and souls into,” says Radovan. “[Cal Neva] is loaded with Americana history that we don’t want to lose.”

Throughout the renovations, Radovan is determined to keep the history as the most important aspect of the hotel. He largely based the remodel on pictures of the hotel from the ’40s.

“The generation that lived here during the Rat Pack era reminisce about the stars who came to stay and it’s great to hear the new owners will not only preserve this history, but are planning a retro design to make the extravagance of the forties come alive for us all,” says Fett.

The renovations are expected to have a social benefit to The Lake’s North Shore. Although the hotel hosts more than 200 rooms, Radovan wants to focus not just on guests, but also on locals.

“There is no longer a social hub in the North Shore. We want to bring it back to being the social entertainment center.”

Incline Star Follies, a community lip-synch show benefitting public education in Incline Village, depends on the completion of the Cal Neva. The annual performance is held in the Cal Neva Showroom. However, the renovations forced the group’s vice president, Kathie Goldberg, to relocate the performance.

“We’ve looked at a number of options locally but we don’t have a lot of great options,” says Goldberg.

Other locations would require the Follies to bring their own equipment, which would lead to a financial loss, she says.

“It almost didn’t happen this year but we decided it was too important.”

The Star Follies will hold the 2014 performance at Incline Village High School, putting the program at a disadvantage.

“We will probably have to have a smaller crew,” says Goldberg. “There won’t be table seating, which we would usually charge premium for, so I’m guessing we won’t make as much in ticket sales.”

However, Goldberg is excited about the Cal Neva upgrades.

“We are looking forward to the renovated showroom with all the equipment in working order.”

Tahoe is undergoing a redevelopment and revitalization phase, and Radovan hopes the renovations can lead the trend, bringing an economic benefit to the community, as well. “This can set a standard of what can be done with good redevelopment and repurposing of spaces that need help.”

“The income that will be generated by the high-end clients that this resort is catering to will trickle down to our economy in so many ways,” says Fett.  “As an architect, I feel that people will now see higher value in their property and therefore be comfortable investing in improvements for themselves or their renters.”

The completion of the Cal Neva will also provide more than 250 jobs. Radovan says all the employees who lost their jobs due to the renovations will have first priority once the resort reopens.

“They were a great group of people who were there because of the history, not just the job.”

The hotel is scheduled to reopen on December 12, 2014, Frank Sinatra’s 99th birthday.

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