See the truth and act
We here at the Reno News & Review are mostly pragmatists and realists. As such, we occasionally say things that rub people the wrong way—saying things that people know, but the powers-that-be refuse to act on—but we do it with the best of intentions.
So, let us say something as gently as possible, in the hopes that the volume won’t prevent people from hearing us: The day of the gambling-tourism economy in Northern Nevada is ending.
If we are going to keep the tourism part of that equation going—even in the short term—government and business need to recognize the truth of that statement and act on it.
If Northern Nevadans are going to reap the benefits of the tourism-tax base for even a few more years, business and government are going to have to recognize that we have moved to a special events-tourism economy.
This hurts for us to say, most notably because most special events, like Hot August Nights, are not for locals, and except for their ephemeral tax and job benefits, they damage quality of life for people who actually live here.
Any pragmatist can look at the state, county and city budgets and see that, despite our 15-year history of sky-is-falling editorials, gambling is the only game in town. After their decades of talk, our elected leaders did not diversify the economy. Instead they starved schools to the point that there are not enough educated people to germinate a new economy—like the fanciful green-power economy—and there won’t be for years or unless we import them.
So if our governments and casinos are going to survive in solvency in the next few years, government and business have to recognize that we don’t have the infrastructure to support a special-events economy to support our tourism-paid tax system.
The Nugget’s rib cook-off is a great example. The event is hugely successful, well-run, has rare popularity among tourists and residents, and is almost overwhelming for those residents, the Nugget and other businesses surrounding Victorian Square, and public safety officials.
Here are our suggestions: Casino officials must be creative in reaching out to special interest groups that can bring in large numbers of tourists. That means everything from motorcycle races to Star Trek conventions to swingers hookups to South by Southwest-style music festivals on Virginia Street—a different special event every single weekend, marketing to a specialized groups every single weekend—even in the winter, which may require an overhead covering and climate control like that of Las Vegas’ Fremont Street Experience.
Government must permanently close down Virginia Street from the river to Fifth Street and turn it into a plaza that can handle a half-million people a week. Government must make Center and Sierra streets two-way traffic to enhance the movement of traffic for both special events and locals. Government must build pedestrian overpasses over the east-west arteries like Second and Fourth.
Government and casinos must collaborate to build paid garage parking. If government is building it—using the parking gallery on West First Street as a bad example—the money should come back to taxpayers and not as a subsidy to business.
If government and business can get on the same page, a new special events economy will pay for decades to come. It’s not too hard to see the future if they don’t. Just go stand under the arch on any given Tuesday.