The new owners of Cal Neva are moving full steam ahead in trying to get the historic resort back open by 2026 – the historic resort’s 100th anniversary.
McWhinney is a Colorado-based real estate developer, management, and investment firm that has a 31-year history of specializing in multifamily, commercial, hospitality, and mixed-use acquisitions and development. McWhinney acquired the 13-acre Cal Neva property located on the northeast shore of Lake Tahoe from Larry Ellison in April and has been meeting with small groups and having one-on-one’s with community members in the Incline Village/Crystal Bay area since.
When it first started looking at purchasing the property, McWhinney envisioned that Proper Hospitality would be an ideal operator of the revitalized Cal Neva and them along with The Kor Group are starting to begin the design process for modernizing the resort.
“McWhinney is a long-term generational business; its founders are interested in restoring properties in destination areas that have historic significance,” says McWhinney Senior VP of Development-Hospitality Jason Newcomer. He explains that the Proper hotel in downtown Austin, Texas, is the jewel of their portfolio, full of historic relevance and luxury.
McWhinney also owns the site of the Proper hotel in downtown Santa Monica and thought that the Cal Neva would be a good fit for them.
Originally built in 1926, McWhinney’s Cal Neva project team is focused on upgrading and modernizing the existing 10-story hotel tower and retaining the original character of the historic Native American Room and Frank Sinatra Showroom. Along with keeping its historic significance, the team is looking at including a world-class spa, wellness center, and upgraded outdoor lounge areas that are on par with the Proper signature features at other resorts.
McWhinney has an investor base of around 150 long term families and a few of those investors live in Lake Tahoe. When they caught word that Ellison was looking to sell, they contacted McWhinney which reinforced their interest in the Cal Neva property.
“Tahoe is such a wonderful place with its rich history and cultural heritage,” Newcomer says. “(The Cal Neva) is the town center of Crystal Bay. I’ve heard a lot of stories about how it used to be a vibrant, happening place and we’re excited to bring that back. Eighty percent of everyone we have met has a Cal Neva story,” he adds.
McWhinney has received more than 500 emails about the Cal Neva project, and the company is excited to bring back the entertainment, eating, and drinking experience that made Crystal Bay famous back in the Rat Pack days.
Unfortunately, most of the artifacts from the Cal Neva have been lost in the transition, but they have connected with Bill Watson from the Thunderbird Lodge Preservation Society as well as the Gatekeeper’s Museum in Tahoe City to try to track down anything associated with the Cal Neva.
Cal Neva will remain strictly a hotel/resort and there will be 219 keys between the cabins and rooms in the hotel tower.
“The area has lost 400 hotel rooms in Tahoe over the past few years, and hopefully this will relieve the pressure of STRs,” Newcomer says.
Unfortunately, the few cabins that remain on the site have been so neglected over the years that they are now structurally unsafe and at serious risk of catastrophic collapse and environmental contamination.
Over the various iterations and through multiple ownership groups, there were up to 37 cabins and hotel rooms – outside of the hotel tower – at various times. Most of those are long gone and currently only five cabins and a few other outbuildings remain. McWhinney would like to replace some of those cabins, but the future of those structures is unknown. The swimming pool that used to be on the California/Nevada state line doesn’t exist anymore, and the McWhinney design group thinks that the area might work better as an outdoor gathering space.
“The state line was very defined in the historic lodge, and we will celebrate the state line there,” Newcomer says.
The tunnels leading to the cabins and other parts of the property are completely closed, but the ones under the lodge could possibly be restored.
“The tunnels (under the lodge) are in rough shape, but we want to keep them, reimagined,” says Newcomer. Its plans also include restoring the Circle Bar, Showroom, Historic Lodge area, three-meal dining, and meeting/event space. Cultural and historical preservation is a cornerstone of our revitalization plan.
McWhinney is making progress, hoping to start structural repair work before the snow starts to fall.
“It’s about 4-5 months of work, and we want hopefully a month-long start. The stress from last year’s snow has caused a lot of damage, though,” says Newcomer.
They will be doing a full renovation on all their systems- mechanical, electrical, plumbing, technology, and more, and then will resume the design/planning stages of Cal Neva next spring/summer. Newcomer emphasizes that McWhinney is already looking into stormwater upgrades to help keep the lake clear and healthy, bringing back native plant landscaping, implementing solar energy, and creating open space.
Newcomer explains that it’s all about the generational perspective that McWhinney brings to the table that will ensure Cal Neva’s successful restoration and longevity. “They recognize that this needs to get done and has the ability to make a significant investment to get it ready.”
Newcomer believes the biggest challenge is building the design of the project in trying to figure out how to keep all the historical components intact like the casino and theater and make it all fit with the community, while also understanding the complexity of what was built and rebuilt over the past several decades.
However, Newcomer says that the more he learns about the Cal Neva, the more he loves it. “We’ve spent the last eight months listening and meeting with the community while also building our team. We have received hundreds of emails to our website from people who have shared their incredible stories and memories of the Cal Neva and have provided feedback and ideas. We sincerely appreciate people sharing their thoughts and all the notes of support and encouragement for this exciting project. Our intent is to open in 2026 for the 100th anniversary of Cal Neva and we are excited about the opportunity to create an exceptional experience for guests and local community members to enjoy Cal Neva for years to come,” Newcomer adds.
For information about the Revitalize Cal Neva project, visit https://www.revitalizecalneva.com/.