Tahoe’s Cal Neva resort to close for year-long overhaul

Kevin MacMillan
A look at the famed Cal Neva from Lake Tahoe. The resort's tower — the tallest structure on the North Shore — was scheduled to receive upgrades and a new paint job as part of project renovations.
Courtesy / Cathy Gillespie |

CRYSTAL BAY, Nev. — The historic Cal Neva resort will shut its doors for more than a year on Monday as developers begin a multimillion-dollar renovation designed to reinvent the struggling property.

The resort could reopen as soon as December 2014, said Robert Radovan, co-owner of Criswell-Radovan, controlling partner of the property that straddles the California/Nevada state line on Lake Tahoe’s North Shore.

“With the reopening, there will be a rebirth … it will be a totally different creature,” Radovan said Thursday. “Our goal is to be the entertainment center of the North Shore. The Cal Neva has always been an icon of the North Shore. With a new look and a return to a four- or four-and-a-half-star hotel … we plan to bring it back to what it was in its heyday.”

That heyday includes the memorable era in the 1960s when the resort was owned by Frank Sinatra and frequented by the likes of the Rat Pack, Marilyn Monroe and members of the Kennedy family.

“The soul of this place still has to be the Cal Neva.”
Robert Radovan

“The resort has to be modernized … but we have to keep the history. The soul of this place still has to be the Cal Neva,” Radovan said.

The project includes a complete overhaul of the Cal Neva’s interior — from the famous Circle Bar to the casino floor to the hotel’s rooms — a relocation of its outdoor pool and several exterior upgrades to comply with environmental laws governed by the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency.

These erosion-control measures — referred to as Best Management Practices — will bring the resort into compliance with the TRPA, Radovan said, after having substandard levels for roughly a decade.

The entire property will close Monday, meaning roughly 60 employees will be without work.

While the temporary loss of jobs is unfortunate, Radovan said every employee is supportive of the resort’s much-needed makeover. Further, the company will look to hire three times as many people once the Cal Neva reopens.

“It’s hard to say … we’ve really had a skeleton crew running it for awhile, so who knows what’s going to happen,” Radovan said when asked if current employees will return. “But we certainly are going to try.”

A December 2014 reopening would coincide with what would have been Sinatra’s 99th birthday on Dec. 12, Radovan said; however, it could be bumped to May 2015, depending on project progress.

Originally built in 1926, the Cal Neva Resort, Spa & Casino includes 219 rooms and cottages, restaurants, a spa and open space featuring panoramic views of Lake Tahoe. The property, which has had plenty of financial and operational struggles the past decade or so, also features a 350-seat show room, 16,000 square feet of meeting space and a lounge.

Namcal bought the Cal Neva from former owner Chuck Bluth in 2005, after which things began to go downhill. A $60 million renovation was shelved, and a default notice filed on the property led to it being sold at a foreclosure auction in 2009.

Its casino closed in April 2010 after three years of operating in the red before reopening in early 2011 with a handful of slot and video machines, the minimum amount needed for the property to maintain its Nevada gaming license.

Part of the Criswell-Radovan’s overhaul is to restore the Cal Neva’s original 6,000-square-foot gaming floor, Radovan said, complete with a full slot display and the return of table games. The company is in discussion with several gaming companies to take over operations by 2015.

During the closure, the resort’s popular tunnel tours will be suspended. Further, future concerts and annual events such as the New Year’s Eve Black and White Ball have been canceled.

“We are looking forward to bringing those events back to a much nicer venue,” Radovan said.

Radovan declined to reveal the project’s price tag when asked Thursday.

“I can’t say an exact number … but it’s a very significant amount,” he said. “It’s not just a little bit of paint we’re throwing on — it’s an entire redo of this property.”

Kristina Hill, an Incline Village-based planner, has worked with the property for years and has helped obtain the necessary permits from TRPA and Washoe County.

The overhaul not only is long overdue, she said, but is being done in a way to maintain the property’s “old-school feel.”

“We’ve gotten tremendous support from the community … everybody wants to see it succeed,” Hill said.

To learn more about the resort, visit

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