Archive for August, 2009

Hillbillies, the Nugget and a new Sparks special events center?

August 26, 2009

By David Farside

Max Baer Jr. is at it again. For years he has been trying to immortalize his own name and the character Jethro of Beverly Hillbillies fame. First, he wanted to build a casino based on the hillbillies theme at the Park Lane property on Plumb Lane but couldn’t find anyone crazy enough to give him the money.

Then, he tried to sell Carson City on the idea. The city placed numerous restrictions on his scheme, including the downsizing of his proposed 200-foot tall oil derrick sign. But good ol’ Max didn’t give up. He somehow talked Douglas County (where there is no shortage of hillbillies) into approving his project. His casino is scheduled to be the anchor for a retail center similar to the Legends at Sparks Marina. Because of a lack of funds, Douglas County had to put the new development on hold. Now Max is looking to bring the hillbillies to the Silver Club in downtown Sparks.

Why not? He probably heard the city council is looking for a new advertising brand for Sparks. If the council is really serious about promoting sparks as “Nevada’s Festival City,” why not add hillbillies to the party? The city’s Tourism and Marketing Committee could advertise in the Ozarks, Blue Ridge mountains and Appalachia. Of course, they’d have to use glossy pictures in their promotions of Baer’s 200-foot oil rig facing John Ascuaga’s Nugget. The non-glossy ones would somehow find their way to the outhouse. I know, you have to think about that.

Over the years, John Ascuaga and I have had our political differences. But, thanks to Ascuaga, the Nugget has always been a first-class hotel and casino. It houses great restaurants, convention facilities and entertainment and has always been the glimmering jewel of downtown Sparks. It may soon lose its luster, though, if we are invaded by hillbillies.

The Nugget has always protected its territory, discouraging any new development threatening its towers of power. Max Baer’s project will be no different.

A prime example is the Nugget’s attempt to prevent Harvey Whittemore from building a casino on the Pyramid Highway. Pretending to be altruistic, the Nugget joined the local’s law suit opposed to the project. However, their real strategy was to cause enough resentment among the locals to boycott a casino built by Whittemore or anyone else in their neighborhood.

Baer said he met with Michonne Ascuaga, chief financial officer for the Nugget. A spokesman for the Nugget, Michael Traum, said, “The resort wants what is best for Victorian Square.” He wanted to know what Baer’s project would contribute to the square. In my opinion, nothing. And Baer’s proposal is not the best use for the vacant Silver Club. What the city really needs is its own downtown sparks special events center.

Mayor Geno Martini has placed his political future, reputation and legacy on the line using STAR bonds for the development of Legends. Top brand retailers, restaurants and a casino will be another jewel on the Sparks landscape. Although I think STAR bonds are an inappropriate funding base for the project, we can all hope Martini made the right decision.

Now would be a good time for Mayor Martini to have his own talk with Michonne Ascuaga to negotiate a business arrangement between the city of Sparks and the Nugget concerning the future of the Silver Club.

Just as a suggestion, the Nugget should purchase the Silver Club and lease it to the city for $1 per year, repaying the city for the hundreds of thousands of dollars given to it over the years for its special outdoor events held on our public streets.

The Nugget would keep the Silver Club’s gaming license, purchase land next to the proposed Lazy 8 project in Spanish Springs, have it rezoned, create a partnership with Max Baer and build a casino with a 200-foot oil derrick right next to Harvey Whittemore. The Nugget would increase its gaming revenue by eliminating competition from across the street, add to its restaurant receipts and get the hillbillies out of downtown.

The city, in turn, would have an indoor special events center, office space for its downtown redevelopment agency, hotel space for participating vendors and plenty of free parking. And, the city could use the room tax for its own special events instead of giving it away to the Nugget. As I said, just a suggestion.