Posts Tagged ‘tourism and marketing’

Time for a tourmark change

March 7, 2009

By David Farside


Sometimes politics is humorous. The latest attempt by Sparks’ tourmark (Tourism and Marketing) committee to find a new theme for Sparks is downright hilarious.

In an attempt to generate more tourists and market Sparks as a destination resort, the City Council approved $114,000 to hire Destination Development of Seattle to create a “new brand” for our rail city. The out of state consulting firm, using their limited creative skills, determined our new identity should be marketed as “Nevada’s Festival City” using the tag line “It’s happening here.” Some changes include renaming Helms Pit (The Sparks Marina) “Celebration Lake” and renaming Victorian Square “Festival Place.”

Consultant Roger Brooks envisions that the new name change could increase event days in Sparks from the current 60 to 200 days annually within the next few years. Wow! If it is that easy, the Reno-Sparks Convention and Visitors Authority (RSCVA) should have hired him years ago. They haven’t booked a new convention for the last 10 years.

The newly created events would join our current special events and festivities that attracts tourists from far away places like Fernley, Susanville, Carson City and Reno.

As an example, our Sparks annual Turkey Trot attracts tourist from great distances such as Fallon and Susanville. The Top o’ the Mornin Fun Run and the Moonlight Run attract tourists from Verdi and Virginia City. Sparks has also enticed thousands of tourists from Reno to their hometown farmers flea market on Victorian Square. But I don’t think a flea market is included in the festival category .

Both Reno and Sparks have tried the festival approach years ago, but casinos were giving away more than they were getting and quit promoting losing festivals. We had a local St. Patrick’s Day parade in Reno and organized festive celebrations in Sparks. Reno also had Columbus Day parades. Their Italian festival, parked in front of the Eldorado, draws hundreds of tourists from Sparks. And let’s not forget the local festivities of Cinco de Mayo. That great festival has diminished to almost nothing. Our Sparks Hometowne Christmas is usually a big attraction, drawing tourists from New York City, Cleveland and San Francisco, but it might be canceled this year because of lack of funds. I think you get my point. So much for the festivities theme.

On the other hand, Sparks does have two great attractions: the Best in the West Nugget Rib Cook-Off and Hot August Nights. I suppose they could be considered “festivals.” It’s still hard to believe we can find 200 more festive events like them with our new image.

So what exactly is the tourmark (Tourism and Marketing) committee? In 1999, legislation was passed giving Sparks back some room tax, normally designated to the RSCVA, for the promotion of tourism and conventions in the city. Sparks formed a three-member tourmark committee in 2000 to act as their own tourism agency. In 2001, the agency received its first payment of $100,000.

By statue, the committee is comprised of three members. Two members from the Sparks City Council, one of whom has to be chairman of the downtown redevelopment agency, and one member of the Nevada Resort Association doing business in Sparks. The original members were Councilmen Mike Carrigan and Ron Schmitt, and Stephen Ascuaga from the Nugget.

Currently, after serving nine year terms, Schmitt is the chairman of the downtown redevelopment agency and chairman of the tourmark committee. Carrigan was the chairman of the redevelopment agency in 2001 and is still representing the City Council on the committee. Steven Ascuaga is still the residing member of the Nevada Resort Association representing the resort’s special interest. I guess term limits do not apply to committees.

Since the first payment in 2001, tourmark has received at least $1.7 million for the promotion of tourism in Sparks. It will be interesting to see how much they have actually spent to specifically lure tourism and conventions to Sparks. It should be enlightening to see how much money the Nugget received to market their own property. I was told they receive an average contribution of about $52,000 a year to promote themselves. Looks like Stephen Ascuaga is doing a good job on the committee.

The City Council has to approve recommended expenditures by tourmark and is responsible for its accounting. But there seems to be little, if any, oversight. The council should request an audit of tourmark’s income and expenditures, examine its travel expenses, verify the legitimacy of its balance sheet and insure that the funds have not been co-mingled with the general funds, which would be illegal.

Last month, Schmitt recommended Councilwoman Julia Ratti to replace him as chair person of the downtown redevelopment agency. He also wanted Carrigan to replace Phil Salerno on the board of the RSCVA. He said it wasn’t personal, he just thought it was time for a change.

But was it personal? If Schmitt’s strategy worked, the RSCVA would probably want Carrigan to resign from the tourmark committee because of conflict of interest. Schmitt would still serve on tourmark representing the council and possibly the interest of Legends and Harvey Whittemore. As a member of the RSCVA, Carrigan could be the mouthpiece for Legends, Whittemore and Schmitt, leaving Ascuaga and Salerno as the political odd-men out and Ratti caught in the middle.

Sparks doesn’t need a new carnival image but it might need new leadership on its tourmark committee. It’s time for the mayor to use his influence to shake up the tourmark committee and appoint council members who at least have a creative brain in their head. The public deserves an audit of the tourmark committee and an accounting for its recommendations and actions over the last nine years.

This morning the tourmark committee meets at 8:30 at Sparks City Hall. If this new image for Sparks is the best they can do, it would be in the best interest of Sparks if Steven Ascuaga, Carrigan and Schmitt resign. As Schmitt would say, it’s not personal. It’s just time for a change.