Parkites hear Reno, Tahoe sales pitches
Nobody on City Hall’s annual trip to another Western resort community seemed shocked when they received a small bit of swag: decks of cards once used in Harrah’s, a Lake Tahoe casino.
Through the five-day trip, which ended on Sunday, the approximately 60 government, business and nonprofit leaders and other Parkites learned about how the gambling industry, or gaming, as people there call the pastime, has influenced places like Reno, Nev., and Lake Tahoe, which straddles the Nevada-California line.
The Park City group listened to a lineup of bureaucrats, developers and public officials talk about the intricacies of how their cities operate, environmental issues and tourism. The group made several other stops, including the small resort town of Truckee, Calif., which many of the people saw as most closely resembling Park City.
In Reno, they heard about the city’s attempt to redefine itself from a gambling destination to a community with lots more to offer tourists, like the arts and outdoor sports like kayaking.
The tour heard about a massive redo of Northstar-at-Tahoe, a mountain resort outside of Lake Tahoe, that is reminiscent of projects in the Park City area, how the other communities are trying to provide housing for workers and the environmental concerns surrounding Lake Tahoe, one of America’s most famous and picturesque lakes.
"If you want to annex us some time, we’d be interested," Park City Councilman Joe Kernan told Reno’s mayor, Robert Cashell.
Kernan’s comment, although a jest, seemed to acknowledge Utah tourism officials’ dilemma of trying to woo people to a state seen as lacking in nightlife and fun, especially when held against the nonstop action in places like Reno and Lake Tahoe.
In Reno, the government and the boosters seemed especially aggressive in their attempt to remake the city into a destination for anyone, not just people with pockets stuffed with quarters heading to the casinos.
The Reno officials spoke of an arts district, an influx of condominiums in downtown, where Cashell said up to 1,500 people will eventually live, and plans to invest $3 million into new lights to make downtown more appealing.
A drop-in center for homeless people is built and there are plans for a family center to serve women and children, he said. Others from Reno talked about a $265 million project that lowered from street level more than two miles of railroad tracks, eliminating crossings, the construction of a movie-theater complex that draws 500,000 people each year and Reno’s calendar of special events, such as one celebrating the ’50s and ’60s that drew 800,000 people in 2006.
"There’s a reason to come downtown," said Terri Hendry, a Reno spokeswoman, adding that Reno wants to be the most livable of Nevada’s cities.
At Northstar-at-Tahoe, developers presented their plans for an 1,800-unit project at the mountain resort, featuring a Ritz-Carlton and a $5 million gondola that will transport people through the project, similar in function to one in Telluride, Colo. That one travels between a spot near downtown to the slopeside Mountain Village.
In Truckee, meanwhile, officials noted what they saw as the similarities between their city and Park City and said that Truckee tries to distinguish itself from other communities in the region.
Truckee wants to revitalize the Truckee River riverfront, including relocating industry away from the river, and encountered controversy when it installed a paid-parking system.
"A lot of people come to Tahoe but Truckee was the place people who worked in Tahoe came to live," Beth Ingalls, Truckee’s mayor, said, describing the changes to the community. "It’s way more than a bedroom community. I think we’re starting to become a tourist destination."
When the trip-goers arrived on the South Shore of Lake Tahoe, which is busier than other parts of the lake, they listened to developers’ plans to redo Heavenly Village, the base area of Heavenly Mountain Resort, and heard complaints that lots of the hotels in South Lake Tahoe, a California city on the state line, are outdated.
"We have, perhaps, 8,000 1950s-1960s hotel rooms that don’t meet the expectations of consumers today," said Lew Feldman, an attorney who represents developers, adding, "People don’t want to stay in tired old motels."
He discussed a 400-unit condominium hotel planned in Heavenly Village that would replace 577 older units. They would be razed.
Officials in Lake Tahoe talked about gay and lesbian ski weeks, a marketing campaign that labels the area ‘The Blue World’ and said that the gambling industry is flat but that Lake Tahoe offers lots of other attractions.
"The product is Lake Tahoe," said Mike Bradford, from the Lake Tahoe Gaming Alliance. "The gaming is one of many activities."
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The Park City lodging industry in recent weeks experienced an uptick in projected occupancy numbers during the dates of the Sundance Film Festival, but the figures remain depressed from a typical year during the largest special event on the city’s calendar.