Across the Universe: Let’s accept that Boulder Bay is going to happen
March 18, 2015
It was almost four years ago, April 27, 2011, and there I was, sitting at my desk at my office in Incline Village. I was at my computer, filtering comments coming into our live feed toward the end of a 12-hour TRPA meeting that eventually ended in a 12-2 governing board vote to OK Boulder Bay's proposal to overhaul the Tahoe Biltmore.
Our reporter at the time, Matt Renda, was in attendance for just about all 12 of those hours, waiting until the bitter end (or blissful, depending on one's view) to get the vote, and to interview the key players on the spot for immediate reaction.
At one point, during a break around 7 or 8 p.m., Matt and I touched base on the phone, and I asked him how he was holding up. His reaction made me laugh (paraphrased): "Well I'm not going to lie Kev — I haven't eaten since lunch, and as soon as they said we were going on a break, I ran over to the table and scarfed up about 5 of those cookies they laid out for refreshments."
They were the words of a hungry reporter — in more ways than one. Notwithstanding our obligation to be objective during our coverage, deep down we knew the project would earn approval, and, as journalists "hungry" for news, we were eager to report the reactions of Roger Wittenberg and the Boulder Bay team.
Flashing back another four years before that vote at the North Tahoe Event Center in Kings Beach, Boulder Bay announced in June 2007 it had purchased the Biltmore property
A month later, it first spoke of a grand vision of a high-end boutique hotel/casino surrounded by a pedestrian village of shops and restaurants, all under an umbrella dripping with health and wellness benefits — and all to transform the Crystal Bay casino core into a vibrant destination.
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Now, fast forward eight years to this week, and we're looking at Boulder Bay — one of the most heavily criticized and vetted proposals in the region's recent history — most likely soon breaking ground, marking the start of one of the most important redevelopment transformations that Lake Tahoe will ever see.
Longtime residents and readers will remember the strong opinions handed down since that initial vision was laid out, and, as most developments tend to do at Tahoe, some scaling down was agreed to before the version we're familiar with today was approved in 2011.
But boy, did Boulder Bay's skin get a lot thicker in the four years prior. Conservation groups like the North Tahoe Preservation Alliance led the way, constantly blasting the proposal for fears of over-polluting the region and Lake Tahoe with noise, light and vehicle emissions, among other environmental concerns.
A search on our website for "Boulder Bay" yields too many results for one web page; in all, since that $35.7 million purchase in 2007, we've published more than 300 stories about the project, and some of the commentary within many of those articles was very critical.
But it's also important to remember that, for as many comments out there among the vocal minority, there were always — and there very much continue to be — many, many more in support of the project and what it will mean in terms of a needed overhaul of the property.
And let's not forget, no matter the rumors out there, TRPA approved a project that promises to do good things for Lake Tahoe's environment.
Also, let's also not forgot to hold Boulder Bay accountable on having all the financing it says it does to start work, because we surely don't need another hole in the ground situation like the South Shore.
Now it's up to Boulder Bay to make good on its promises and set the tone for our future, as the late Dennis Oliver, TRPA's straight-shooting spokesperson, often eloquently put it.
"It's a bellwether project," Oliver told us in November 2009, after the project's Draft Environmental Impact Statement was released. "It's a test for Tahoe. A test of can we do this? What will this lake look like in 20 years?"
I, for one, am hungry to find out.
Kevin MacMillan is managing editor of the Sierra Sun. He may be reached for comment at firstname.lastname@example.org.