KEEP TAHOE BLUE: Tahoe Blue Event Center, designed by Perkins & Will, featured Pitbull as its first concert on Sept. 29.  (Courtesy venue)

Arena home to ECHL team

Just because something makes sense and is a good fit doesn’t mean it’s easy to accomplish the project.

“We broke ground in July of 2021 (during the pandemic), and then we had a couple of small challenges,” says Carol Chaplin, president and CEO of the Tahoe Douglas Visitors Authority, owner and developer of the new Tahoe Blue Event Center in Stateline, Nevada.

“We had a wildfire of 220,000 acres that evacuated the south shore with about 17 days of smoke and fire, and then we had two snow events, one in December of 2021,” Chaplin said. “This past winter was the largest we’ve ever seen with over 700 inches of snow. But we’ve emerged. We are like the phoenix out of the fire and ice.”

The 5,200-capacity arena, situated on the lake’s southeastern shore along the Sierra Nevada mountains, brings an indoor venue to the market known for water sports, snow skiing and casinos. It opened Sept. 1 for weddings and meetings and on Sept. 29 hosted Pitbull, its first concert.

In its first month of operation, the venue played host to a sold-out Billy Strings concert, a WWE event and the Rumours of Fleetwood Mac tribute show.

“It was a great opening show; the energy in the facility was phenomenal,” says Kevin Boryczki, general manager of Tahoe Blue Event Center for OVG360, which runs the arena and its food service.

“We learn so much from every show we do, and these four shows will make us even better prepared for Adam Sandler on Oct 19,” Boryczki said.

Other upcoming concerts include Lindsey Stirling, Cirque Dreams Holidaze and a New Year’s event with EDM artist Excision on Dec. 30-31.

TAHOE BLUE-GRASS: Bluegrass phenom Billy Strings sold out Tahoe Blue Event Center as one of its first concerts.

The arena’s first six rows of seats are retractable, allowing for multiple configurations.

“We had a Comic-Con here and pushed the retractables back to give us 27,000 square feet of clear event floor, which is great for trade shows,” Boryczki said. “For conferences. we have a half-house curtain that goes wall to wall and we can hang that anywhere on our steel grid. That allows us to separate the room into two spaces for conferences and conventions.”

The venue has been in the planning stages for well more than a decade, picking up steam in 2015 with environmental impact and feasibility studies completed.

With the proliferation of tribal casinos in California over the last 20 years, Chaplin said Douglas County’s casino employment dropped as much as 70%, showing the need for varied types of non-gaming entertainment to serve tourists and the local community.

“Unlike some other projects here, we had huge community support,” Chaplin added, noting that the money for the $100 million project was raised through hotel room taxes and a bond sale that took place in 2020, a period with favorable interest rates.

“We didn’t have a gathering place,” Chaplin said. “We can already see that happening. People are wandering around, it’s extending our pedestrian area considerably.”

The county enlisted International Coliseums Company as project manager, and Perkins & Will was the architect.

The Tahoe Blue Event Center sits next to Bally’s Lake Tahoe, a major commerce hub in the community. The arena fills a niche in a market with mostly outdoor venues, including Harvey’s, an amphitheater that accommodates up to 10,000. The casino halls typically seat  less than 1,000 patrons and lack the infrastructure for full-production tours.

“Reno would be the closest comparison market, but in Tahoe, we’re starting to develop with an entertainment venue available year round,” Boryczki said. “The other thing is it provides opportunities that never existed, to bring family entertainment to Tahoe. We have the Globetrotters, Paw Patrol and just had WWE. The other aspect of it is the sporting events.” 

The arena has 17 suites and 82 club seats. The second level contains meeting spaces and artist catering. Booking is handled by Boryczki, along with support from Drew Gershenson, who is based at Acrisure Arena near Palm Springs and serves as vice president of content for that arena as well as the OVG Southwest Division. Oak View Group is parent company to VenuesNow.  

BLUE ICE: Lake Tahoe Hockey takes shape, with an announcement at the venue. Pictured L-R are ECHL Commissioner Ryan Crelin, team co-owners Tim Tebow and David Hodges, Tahoe Douglas Visitors Authority CEO Carol Chaplin, OVG360 senior VP Rick Hontz, Zawyer Sports & Entertainment owner and CEO Andy Kaufmann and arena GM Kevin Boryczki.

“There’s tons of windows providing natural light. We want to make sure people are able to see the lake, see the mountains, really enjoy the beautiful views while they’re in the facility,” he said. “There are eight artist dressing rooms, two “star” rooms, two promoter offices and two large locker rooms that can be split into four,” Boryczki said.

An ECHL hockey team, owned by former Heisman trophy winner and NFL quarterback Tim Tebow, starts play in the fall of 2024.  

“Season ticket deposits, from what I understand, are strong,” he said. “They’ve started the name the team contest and got 2,000 to 2,5000 entries from residents.”

Further solidifying the community aspect is the naming rights partner, a local distiller that literally keeps “Tahoe Blue” in the name of the venue.

“Sustainability is important to us and to Tahoe Blue Vodka, and it was part of the conversations as we were working through the naming rights agreement,” Boryczki said.  “They provided a large donation to the Clean Up the Lake project. To recognize that, we have a big art piece in front of our building created from trash taken out of the lake. It’s an eagle with a trout in its claw. It shows the commitment to preserving the great natural resources we have in Tahoe.”