Business & Real Estate

Sinatra’s old Tahoe casino in bankruptcy

The front entrance of the Cal Neva Resort & Casino in 2009. The resort has been closed for renovations since 2013 and is now in bankruptcy.
The front entrance of the Cal Neva Resort & Casino in 2009. The resort has been closed for renovations since 2013 and is now in bankruptcy. Sacramento Bee file

Frank Sinatra’s old casino at Lake Tahoe, closed for renovations for nearly three years, is now in bankruptcy.

Months after halting work on a $49 million overhaul, the developer of the Cal Neva Resort & Casino has placed the venerable Tahoe property in Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings.

The case has left the reopening in limbo, although the developer said in court papers the project can be finished in a few months. The national hotel chain that has contracted to operate the Cal Neva says on its website the property is scheduled to open next April.

“An iconic Lake Tahoe property,” said spokesman Tom Lotshaw of the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency. “It would be great to see that completed. So we’re hoping.”

He said construction was halted late last fall and agency officials haven’t heard from the developer, Criswell Radovan LLC, since the bankruptcy filing.

The case, filed in late June in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Santa Rosa, is the latest setback for a 90-year-old resort that was once the glamor spot on Tahoe’s north shore. When Sinatra owned the Cal Neva, from 1960 to 1963, it became a summer getaway spot for his Rat Pack pals and other entertainers. He lost his license after an FBI agent spotted Sam Giancana, the Chicago mobster, on the premises.

Since then, the Cal Neva has gone through a succession of owners and has gradually slid into irrelevancy. The rise of Indian casinos in California has prompted Tahoe to slowly reinvent itself as a luxury market that depends less and less on gambling. The Cal Neva, which straddles the state line, has been unable to get back on track.

“It hasn’t mattered in 40 years,” said Ken Adams, a Reno casino-industry consultant.

Criswell Radovan, a developer from St. Helena, bought the Cal Neva in April 2013 and closed it five months later for a long-overdue face-lift. The company said it would rebuild the 10-story hotel tower, infuse the resort with Sinatra-era glamor and operate a 6,000-square-foot casino – tiny by modern casino standards. Criswell Radovan originally targeted a December 2014 opening, in time for what would have been Sinatra’s 99th birthday, but the project got pushed to May 2016. Sinatra died in 1998.

The developer’s financial problems came to a head in February, when it defaulted on a $6 million loan. The lender was prepared to initiate a foreclosure sale, “necessitating the Chapter 11 case,” Criswell Radovan’s lawyer David Potras wrote in court papers. The bankruptcy means the foreclosure sale couldn’t go forward.

In a court filing last week, the developer said the property faces about $40 million in debt and would need $23.8 million to finish the renovation. It added that it expects to get new financing for the property in a month or two, and believes “the redevelopment will be completed within six months of the closing of the refinancing.” It estimated the Cal Neva would be worth $75 million when the project is done.

Officials with Criswell Radovan couldn’t be reached for comment.

Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Inc., the international hotel chain, agreed to operate the Cal Neva as part of its “luxury collection.” The chain’s website says the hotel will open next April. The developer owes Starwood about $30,000, according to court records.

Officials with Starwood were unavailable for comment.

Dale Kasler: 916-321-1066, @dakasler