Gaming revenue is lower than it has been in more than two decades and the casinos are Tahoe's biggest draw. So, the challenge facing Tahoe businesses is how to re-invent themselves with both the economy and the environment in mind.
If you have ever visited Stateline on Lake Tahoe's South Shore, you know it is easy to find a spot to gamble, but pretty tough to get close to the water. There are more hotel rooms there than anywhere else in the Tahoe Basin, but if you want to go to the beach, you have to go somewhere else.
"There is no real lake access from Stateline," says Julie Regan with the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency. "It's really a shame."
Now, the owners of a half-mile stretch of Tahoe Beach near the casinos are offering to open part of the shoreline to the public, if they get the OK for a new building project which would include "a 230-unit Lakeview, high-end hotel, meeting space and health center" according to attorney Lew Feldman.
The proposed hotel and public beach would be on the Edgewood golf course. This time of year it is covered with snow, but you might have seen it in July during the annual American Century golf tournament. Celebrities come out to play and crowds pack the Tahoe Beach to watch.
The hotel proposal would open access to 200 feet of that beach all the time. Feldman is the attorney for the owners and says there will be a dedicated public beach. Getting more beaches close to hotels so people do not have to drive is a major goal of the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency.
The agency is working on a 20-year plan that will govern Tahoe's future.
Regan says they are "Looking forward for the next 20 years at a more walkable, bikable, safer Lake Tahoe."
The plan will also focus on improving the environment. The agency wants new and greener buildings to replace outdated ones, but there is a strict cap on development.
"So, if someone wants to build a new hotel room, they'll have to tear out a hotel room somewhere else," Regan explains.
The Edgewood golf course has a big club house now, but no hotel. The same company also owns the land under the Horizon Casino and Hotel right in the middle of Stateline. Their proposal calls for tearing down at least part of the Horizon to get approval to put hotel rooms at the golf course.
The Tahoe Regional Planning Agency staff says that could be a good change for the lake.
"Something that's more in tune with the character, versus big tower high rise which was from the era of the 60s or 70s," says Regan.
Another key to the proposal is Edgewood's plan to improve water quality. They are promising to restore wetlands and increase a pond system that treats storm water.
"It is filtering out contaminants and suspended sediment and fine particles, keeping them from entering Lake Tahoe," Feldman says.
The Tahoe Regional Planning Agency is now doing its analysis of the proposal. Edgewood's owners are crossing their fingers and environmentalists say they want more details.
"We are still waiting for the environmental documents and at that time we'll be able to better judge whether or not it's something that will help or hurt the lake," says Carl Young with League to Save Lake Tahoe.
The planning agency's analysis will take several months. Then, it will be open for public comment before a final decision is made.
Written and produced by Jennifer Olney