- The Magazine
- Current Issue
- Events & Shows
- Web Extras
- Yellow Pages
Sinatra made it famous, but a certain entrepreneur wants to bring back the town’s luster.
Photo: Renderings courtesy of Boulder Bay Resort
Roger Wittenberg noticed something every time he drove through Crystal Bay on his way home to Incline Village—the area was run down and badly in need of a facelift.
The small North Lake Tahoe town, which borders the Nevada-California state line, is made up of several casinos that were constructed during the area’s heyday more than 70 years ago. Most of the 1930s- and 1940s-era buildings were showing their age. “Seeing the continued decline of this neighborhood and having a pretty good sense of what could be done, I found the opportunity irresistible,” Wittenberg says.
The opportunity Wittenberg references is the chance he had in 2007 to purchase the Tahoe Biltmore Lodge and Casino and the neighboring empty lot, which once housed the Tahoe Mariner Casino. Wittenberg, an entrepreneur who made his fortune creating companies that recycle materials, saw an opportunity to extend his repertoire to redevelopment. His vision: turn an outdated property into a state-of-the-art hotel and spa that plays down gaming and highlights health and the environment. Along with the remodel of the Crystal Bay Club, Wittenberg’s proposed Boulder Bay Resort & Wellness Center could signal a renaissance for Crystal Bay.
Once upon a time, North Lake Tahoe’s casinos were the place to see and be seen for celebrities and politicians. Stars such as Marilyn Monroe, Judy Garland, the Kennedys, and members of the Rat Pack flocked to Cal Neva Resort, which was owned by Frank Sinatra in the early 1960s. But as time went on, North Tahoe’s casinos began to lose their appeal. According to Wittenberg, since 2001 gaming on Tahoe’s North Shore has fallen by 37 percent. “Gaming was the driver, but it’s not why [some people] come here anymore,” Wittenberg says. “The Biltmore site stands in stark contrast to why people choose to live in Tahoe and visit.”
What does draw people to Tahoe? According to Wittenberg, it’s simple: the opportunity for recreation and rejuvenation in the great outdoors. And that’s exactly what he wants to be at the core of the 15-acre Boulder Bay Resort, an environmentally sustainable village that is planned to include a 300-room hotel, 59 condominiums, 20,000 square feet of retail and dining, four acres of parks, and 1.5 miles of walking and biking trails. The project, which is currently in the environmental review process, is awaiting Tahoe Regional Planning Agency approval this spring.
Wittenberg does not want to completely do away with gaming, but he’s reducing the size of the casino by a third: from 30,000 to 10,000 square feet, and gambling won’t be promoted from the highway.
The health and wellness center will be two times the size of the casino. It will offer classes such as yoga, meditation, and nutrition, as well as have Tahoe Forest Hospital physicians on site to provide examinations. Wittenberg also wants to offer cooking classes and team up with Sierra Nevada College (where he is a board member) to provide lectures on ecology and environment. “A certain kind of person is attracted to the lake, and they [might not] come here to see a 60-year-old casino,” Wittenberg says. “People who come up here have a yearning to be more aware of the environment—you just need to give them a way to participate.”
Boulder Bay, expected to break ground in 2011 if given the green light, will give guests a multitude of ways to participate in reducing their global footprint. Each room will come with two bikes, which can be powered by foot or an electric motor that can travel up to 18 mph. Wittenberg hopes this will get guests out of their cars, at least during the summer. When visitors check out, they will be able to see how much water and energy they consumed during their stay, and buy carbon offsets if they desire.
Since creating an environmentally friendly hotel is another cornerstone of the project, the development will incorporate the latest green technologies and is working toward a Silver LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification. For Wittenberg, who is a chemist by training, this is part of what attracted him to the project. “Knowing the science is there and the site is so deteriorated, surely we could put it all together and make it better,” says Wittenberg, who started the composite wood company Trex in 1988.
Wittenberg plans to build a resort that is three times bigger than the current building but will use 38 percent less energy and one-third less water. He plans to achieve this by incorporating low-water consumption utilities, water collection for irrigation, living roofs, energy efficient technologies (such as on-demand water heaters, motion-sensor lighting, and recycled insulation), and underground parking. Boulder Bay will fit in nicely in North Tahoe, which is becoming known for its green buildings. Incline Village’s Tahoe Center for Environmental Sciences, one of the premier research institutions in the world devoted to the study of alpine lakes, was the first facility in Nevada to receive Platinum LEED certification.
While Wittenberg is looking to the future, he understands that the past is still important. He plans to display artifacts from Lake Tahoe’s history throughout the resort, including the Biltmore’s old black-and-white photos. He is also aware of the historical significance of the Biltmore’s iconic giant wagon wheel sign, an example of 1940s, space age-inspired Googie architecture, and will donate it to any interested group. “People are fascinated by that stuff,” he says. “Another reason people love to come to Lake Tahoe is to learn about its history.”
Despite the interest in Old Tahoe, other Crystal Bay casinos have also made efforts to modernize. In 2003, the Crystal Bay Club spent about $9 million remodeling the interior of its property. Originally built in the late 1930s, the building had undergone only one major renovation.
Efforts to update the exterior of the building, however, were met with roadblocks. The TRPA wanted a consistent look for the area, but Crystal Bay General Manager Bill Wood says it was difficult for four different properties, some facing financial hardship, to agree. Wood adds that if the Boulder Bay project is given the thumbs up, it could provide the architectural design for other casinos to follow. “I’m looking forward to that passing and it getting done so we can revitalize the North Shore economy,” Wood says.
Stuart Yount, a 14-year Crystal Bay resident and former TRPA Governing Board member, feels that Boulder Bay has a strong chance of getting approved. “It’s what the [TRPA] board members should look for in a project,” he says. “As far as being environmentally friendly to the lake, as well as helping the entertainment, vitality of the community, and its revitalization, it has all the pieces.”
Yount believes that Boulder Bay will go a long way toward restoring the community’s splendor. “It preserves Crystal Bay’s history of being a first-class commercial area and the grandeur of the Frank Sinatra era,” Yount says. “It was the grandest thing in Lake Tahoe at the time.”
Boulder Bay, LLC
PO Box 307
22 Highway 28, Suite 201
Crystal Bay, NV 89402