Over the last 13 years, Stone, a contractor who divides his time between homes in Big Bear Lake and Glendora, has snatched up property across the San Bernardino Mountains city. He has bought three lodges that had been on the market for years and had fallen into disrepair, converting them into elegant 5-star stopovers.
Last year, he bought the Village Theater, the former movie house in the city’s Village shopping district that Stone is now transforming into a live music and comedy venue called The Cave. It is set for a grand opening on June 7 and will feature as its inaugural performer John Denver tribute artist Jim Curry.
Stone said he already has 60 acts booked through the summer at the 400-capacity theater, which will feature a dance pit, two balconies, a VIP area and a concession stand serving a variety of beer and wine.
“There’s not a bad seat in the house. Anywhere you go you have a great seat,” said Stone, 49, standing in the gutted theater on a recent rainy morning, sawdust blanketing the floor and the shrill of buzzing saws emanating through the building.
Stone hopes The Cave will provide Big Bear Lake with what he believes it is sorely lacking: nightlife. But his ultimate vision is much grander: He wants to transform the city into the next Aspen or Vail, Colo., attracting tourists in the higher tax bracket with more refined tastes. And the locals are seeing it.
“It’s really a new wave of energized people up here really working to transform Big Bear into what it can be, which is a first-class resort destination,” said Rick Bates, Director of Big Bear Lake’s Events Resources Office.
In March, Stone opened a wine room at his Wolf Creek Resort, appropriately called the Wine Room at Wolf Creek Resort. The cozy getaway is furnished with a slate-rock fireplace, coffee tables shaped like halved wine barrels and red leather couches where guests can lounge while enjoying live jazz on weekends. Outside, guests can sip their wine and smoke cigars on a patio dotted with pylon-shaped heaters.
Stone has cultivated a vineyard outside his wine room, where he has planted cabernet, merlot, chardonnay and riesling vines, 500 of each. He said it will be several years before he can harvest the grapes at his Stone Summit Winery, also housed on the resort property. And he plans to build a swimming pool with cabanas at the resort over the summer if all goes according to plan.
Unlike other developers whose ambitions to bring grand-scale projects to mountain resort communities are oftentimes met with resistance by residents and competitors, Stone’s efforts have been embraced by the city and have met no resistance from area residents.
“He’s not going out to a vacant lot and developing a new center that wasn’t there before. He’s taking existing, blighted commercial stock and transforming it into a viable asset back to the community,” said City Manager Jeff Mathieu. He said Stone has been able to expand and leverage the city’s tourism base while also helping to revitalize the city. And Stone’s timing couldn’t be more opportune.
The Village is undergoing a $6 million infrastructure revitalization project coined the Village Renaissance Project, bringing new curbs, gutters, sidewalks and streets to the shopping hub. In addition, new lampposts will be installed along the new sidewalks and the number of trees doubled to provide a shady canopy for people dining on the sidewalk. ”It’s our version of Disney Main Street,” Mathieu said.
Stone’s lodges, which also include the Bear Creek Resort and Fireside Lodge, The Cave and Wine Room are only the tip of the iceberg. He owns several other properties in The Village, including the Big Bear Lake Reservation Center on Village Drive, where visitors are provided information on things to do and places to stay. He also plans to open a day spa and microbrewry in The Village. Stone, a self-described working stiff with an affinity for custom-made alligator skin boots who prefers his Ford F-350 pickup to his slick black Mercedes S65, is the quintessential self-made man.
He attended Arcadia High School before dropping out in the 11th grade to start his first company, Dave Stone Lighting, in 1986. After growing his company to more than 600 employees with offices across the West, Stone sold the company in 2001 to the publicly traded company Building One and retired at age 36. But the retirement was short-lived. Stone and his wife, Jennifer, founded Seven Oaks Inc. in 2002, then began investing in Big Bear Lake.
“I get bored easily,” said Stone, who holds six contracting licenses and is also the co-owner of Superior Electrical, Mechanical & Plumbing Inc. in Rancho Cucamonga. Not only have the Stones built an impressive investment portfolio throughout their adult lives, but they’ve managed to raise four daughters and three sons in their 32 years together. And that’s what it’s really all about, says Stone – building a nest egg for his family. ”This is the place where I’m going to retire,” said Stone. “I don’t mean to sound greedy, but it’s really about me. ”