For as long as I can remember, every time my wife and I drove into South Lake Tahoe, we talked about how all that is missing in the area is a convention center.
Not any longer.
The Tahoe South Events Center is a 143,000 square foot, multi-purpose facility currently under construction. The Center is located right next to Bally’s – the hotel that has been the MontBleu, and Caesars before that.
The project, opening in early 2023, will feature two levels: an event floor, suites, conference, and meeting room level, as well as an event lawn area. Seating for up to 6,000 will be available for concerts, performing arts, trade shows, and sporting exhibitions along with a seasonal micro-transit system.
Stage concerts will have a 6,000-seat capacity, whereas hockey and ice events will be at 4,200, and basketball or similar events will have a seating capacity of 4,700.
For conferences, the event floor can provide 26,000 to 27,000 square feet, and the upper levels will provide 15,000 to 16,000 square feet of meeting room space.
And people are banging on the door to book events.
“We actually had some organizations that were interested in as early as February, so we had to move that out,” said Carol Chaplin, the CEO of the Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority. “Those were youth sports, state championships. Lot of interest from wrestling, basketball, cheer, volleyball – those kinds of events.”
I had a chance to see the site with Chaplin and it is stunning, even with construction still taking place.
The center has become a necessity for economic reasons. Originally the idea was bantered about as early as 2010, but never came to fruition.
“You remember when gaming was everything in Lake Tahoe,” said Chaplin. “We were the third largest gambling area in the world because Nevada owned gambling at that time. When gaming grew in other states, especially California, that became a concern for the economy. This is kind of the answer for that.”
Chaplin said that the Center will bring in $40-60 million a year to the area. It will be an easy sell to bring in conventions and other events. There have always been enough hotel rooms, but not enough space to have some events.
“We have always had a good amount of overnight lodging, but they don’t have the contiguous space available for what people want,” said Chaplin. “But now that meetings are coming back again, this is kind of perfect.”
There was no doubt an events center was needed, but there some questions that needed to be answered. One, where was the best spot, and two, how much would it cost given the expensive nature of Lake Tahoe real estate.
Groups needed to come together, and they did just that. Edgewood, who owns the property, donated the land. A deal was brokered with Bally’s for parking spaces.
Everything fell in place.
“We needed all of our long-term partners to agree that we could take 500 parking spaces permanently,” said Chaplin. “And know that everyone would benefit from this center.”
With all the agreements in place, the groundbreaking came in 2020 during the American Century Championships – the hugely popular celebrity golf event held at Edgewood each July.
“We had a couple of celebrities over and instead of digging dirt, the putted in,” said Chaplin. “It was very apropos.”
There were some delays during the horrific Caldor fire, as well as epic snowfall, but everything is on schedule for the Spring 2023 opening.
“We have a national association booked for September of 2023,” said Chaplin. “Our vision is to fill up those spring or fall months as we have tremendous shoulder seasons.”
One intriguing aspect to me is the possibility of sports events in the Event Center.
While it does not have the seating capacity for a regular season professional ice hockey or basketball game, there could be exhibitions in Tahoe.
“Or what about high altitude training,” offered Chaplin.
If the Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association is looking for a new venue for their state events, Lake Tahoe would be a natural.
The same goes for youth basketball, volleyball, and wrestling organizations. Chaplin even mentioned E-sports, which are becoming major drawing events.
“We can utilize that space for a number of things,” said Chaplin. “There is also an opportunity to do events we have never done in South Lake Tahoe. We don’t have a community center that can do arts or cultural events.”
It all figures to be a winning project, one that benefits local business and give tourists even more reasons to visit the area. It’s Lake Tahoe – one of the most beautiful locations in the world.
“It is interesting,” said Chaplin. “People will extend their stay for a vacation at Lake Tahoe.”
One final touch for the Events Center when it opens will be a home for new commissioned public art piece.
The Tahoe Fund, with support of Tahoe Blue Vodka, has commissioned Building 180 artists Joel Dean Stockdill and Yustina Salnikova to produce “Surfaced” a sculpture for the Events Center made from the materials surfaced during Clean Up The Lake’s 72-mile scuba cleanup of Lake Tahoe.
The artists are internationally recognized for creating beautiful sculptures from recycled and reclaimed materials. Over 1,200 votes were cast in a public contest to determine the sculpture’s design, with the bald eagle and trout combination taking first place over the Sierra Nevada red fox and Lahontan cutthroat trout.
By Dennis Miller