Nearly 10 years later, Tahoe Biltmore redevelopment project is advancing — slowly
Below is a timeline of events for the Boulder Bay project, as created by the Sierra Sun in 2015
June: Boulder Bay LLC announces its purchase of the Tahoe Biltmore Casino and Hotel and the Crystal Bay Hotel, a motel that’s separate from the Crystal Bay Club casino, from a group of investors, with an idea of creating an upscale, master-planned, mixed-use destination resort. The deal is worth a reported $35.7 million.
The Tahoe Regional Planning Agency unveils its Community Enhancement Program, designed to foster redevelopment projects that provide incentive to the private sector to redevelop properties that were built in the 1960s or 1970s. Such properties and other elements of aging infrastructure are seen as the primary culprits in the declining clarity of Lake Tahoe. The CEP seeks to create a structure where private businesses can refurbish their brands while offering environmental gain.
March: Boulder Bay founder Roger Wittenberg submits formal project application with the TRPA. Total fees for application processing amount to nearly $50,000.
November: Many Tahoe community members attend initial public hearing regarding the project. As becomes the pattern the next few years, opinions expressed are sharply divided, with many expressing support for renovating the business and the built environment, with others saying the scale of the project is too large and will lead to more vehicles in the basin and damage to the lake.
December: Public comment on the initial Environmental Impact Report closes. Again, nearly 100 people comment favorably, while those opposing the project have fewer total comments, but claim that as environmental organizations they represent large constituencies.
March: A consortium of Lake Tahoe watchdog groups, including the League to Save Lake Tahoe, pen a latter that criticizes Boulder Bay. Included in its letter is an analysis from then-California Attorney General and current California Gov. Jerry Brown that states the traffic study conducted by the independent environmental consultant was flawed.
September: The final environmental document is released, again sparking commentary from both sides of the increasingly strident debate. Letters to the editor are written, columnists take sides and an increasing focus is centered on Boulder Bay.
December: The hearing for Boulder Bay is pushed back yet again, the most recent in a series of delays as the project proponent and opponents gird up for the coming meeting.
February: Brian Helm, one of the spokespeople for Boulder Bay, announces the project will reduce its scale slightly, decreasing the amount of hotel rooms and retail space.
March: The TRPA meeting to decide on final approval of the project is delayed again, due to a death in the family of Chairwoman Norma Santiago. The announcement also coincided with Governor Brown pulling his appointment to the TRPA governing board, Ron Slaven, and appointing Clem Shute in his stead.
April: The TRPA governing board approves the project 12-2 (Shute voted for the project). Mara Bresnick and Byron Sher dissented. Santiago said: “The board’s decision today comes at a critical juncture in the path to restore Lake Tahoe. Our communities need better direction from TRPA on how to keep good projects coming forward and today’s approval shows that the agency is ready to move forward in partnership with private property owners to support environmental as well as economic revitalization.”
April: At the same meeting, project proponents and the board agreed that getting fully financed for the entire project before breaking ground was a crucial component, as many in the community expressed fears there would be another “hole in the ground” like the one in South Lake Tahoe. The permit issued by TRPA is for three years.
April: Boulder Bay announces the bank that lent Boulder Bay the money to buy the property failed. JMA Ventures, the same real estate company that has plans to redevelop Homewood, buys the note on the property.
April: Nearly three years after approval, Boulder Bay hasn’t announced they have secured funding. The company starts a water quality improvement project, which was the agreed-upon first phase of construction as a means of keeping the permit viable. TRPA currently is in the process of completing their inspection of the water quality improvements.
April: Sierra Sun/North Lake Tahoe Bonanza reports that Boulder Bay is in arrears to the tune of $425,000 on property taxes to Washoe County. The total climbs to as much as a half-million before it is paid in full.
March: Boulder Bay announces it has secured financing and that it expects to begin construction in May. The company pays its property taxes, but must submit to some final inspections from the TRPA before it can put a shovel in the ground during Lake Tahoe’s short construction season.
CRYSTAL BAY, Nev. — It’s been a while since the community has heard news from the developer behind the once-controversial plan to redevelop the site of the Tahoe Biltmore.
The plan, known as Boulder Bay, to update the site of a once-booming casino property into a health and wellness retreat was first proposed in 2008.
After years of public meetings and comments from interests on both sides of the proposal, the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency Governing Board voted to approve the project in 2011.
Nearly six years later, the Tahoe Biltmore property still stands, barely changed.
“The timing just wasn’t right, economically,” Boulder Bay President Heather Bacon told the Bonanza this week. “And at the end of the day, that would have hurt the community.”
She said the company’s employees all live and work in the Lake Tahoe region, so they feel a strong responsibility to ensure the success of the project.
According to previous reports, despite the 2011 approval, Boulder Bay had been struggling to garner money to fund construction of the development due to the recession.
However, in 2015, the company announced it had secured financing in a deal with a private equity firm to move the project forward, while also confirming the company had paid more than $500,000 in back taxes to Washoe County to avoid an auction of the property.
Since, some progress has been made, highlighted by creation of the Sierra Park — a 2.7-acre public park near the Biltmore that was permitted as part of the Boulder Bay Master Plan — beginning in 2015 and wrapping up last summer.
There have also been two water quality projects added to the site — one in front of nearby Cal Neva Resort (which is a different property than the Tahoe Biltmore/Boulder Bay), and the other in Sierra Park, Bacon said.
The next part of the plan’s buildout is the 18 residential condos adjacent to the park on the empty lot where the Tahoe Mariner Casino used to stand.
TRPA spokesman Tom Lotshaw said an application currently is pending for that work to begin later this year.
He added that in order for the permit to remain valid, the company needs to break ground on the next phase of the project during the 2017 grading season, which lasts between May 1 and Oct. 15.
As for the rest of the project, including the bulk of the work to overhaul the Tahoe Biltmore property on the north side of Highway 28 at the North Tahoe state line’s casino corridor, a timeline is still being developed.
“The project is based on re-imagining tourism and the needs of the community, moving away from the old adage of gambling and more toward a health and wellness focus,” Bacon said when asked about what the project aims to accomplish.
The entire development, once completed, will completely overhaul the current Tahoe Biltmore property with a new 275-room hotel with a roughly 10,000 square-foot casino space — a reduction from the roughly 30,000 square-foot casino space currently on the property.
It also includes 14 on-site affordable housing units, 10 off-site affordable housing units, a spa and other amenities, according to a previous reports.
Amanda Rhoades is a news, environment and business reporter for the Sierra Sun. She can be reached at email@example.com, 530-550-2653 or @akrhoades.