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Jeff Ackerman: Pooling resources to bring tourists to area

So my son, Luke, and I witnessed the implosion of the 32-story Stardust Hotel in Las Vegas last week. There is a video of it at http://www.theunion.com/mediacenter. They say the audio didn’t transfer too well from my Sony, but if it had, you’d hear Luke screaming “Thank you, God!” in the background as the 32,000 pounds of explosives reduced the Vegas Strip landmark to dust. We shot the video from our room on the 29th floor of the Circus Circus Hotel at 2:30 in the morning. I tried to tell Luke to be a little quiet before I remembered we were in Vegas and they were blowing up a building outside our bedroom window.

If you haven’t been to Vegas in the last year or so, there are probably a few hundred thousand more people living there. The bus driver told us the population of Las Vegas doubles almost every 20 years or thereabouts, which is probably why we saw so many bumperstickers that read “Don’t Roseville Las Vegas.” They don’t implode multimillion-dollar hotels to make room for multibillion-dollar hotels in Roseville. And the Nevada City Planning Commission would never permit an implosion of, say, the National Hotel. Not unless it was going to be replaced by a historically themed meditation center.

Many who have lived in western Nevada County for awhile might have forgotten that we, too, are a destination for visitors. We don’t have circus acts, lion maulings or a Celine Dion Theater, but thousands of tourists come here to see the two historic landmarks that are downtown Grass Valley and Nevada City. I’ve been part of a Nevada City marketing task force organized a month or so ago to look for ways to bring more visitors to town. Many of the small businesses are struggling these days as more local dollars are spent off the hill, and fewer visitors seem to be driving up from the Bay Area and beyond.



One of the problems is that we really don’t have a strategic marketing plan because it seems we have too many entities (four chambers, two downtown associations, an economic resources council and others) fighting for the same marketing dollar. It takes money to really market effectively (branding, I believe it’s called), and you can’t really be successful nickel and diming it in a fragmented way.

That’s one of the reasons we are proposing to bring the “shareholders,” or those agencies with a vested interest in tourism, together to determine if we can somehow pool our resources to create a consistent and more direct marketing effort. These shareholders include the various chambers (Nevada City, Grass Valley, Penn Valley, south county), the downtown associations in Nevada City and Grass Valley and perhaps the Nevada County Business Association. We’d also want to include representatives of local government (Nevada County, Grass Valley and Nevada City), since they generally control the purse strings.




The first thing we need to do is to identify the market we are trying to reach. They say most of the visitors drive up from the Bay Area and Sacramento regions. A good many also come down from Reno and beyond. With gasoline prices above $3 per gallon and seemingly climbing, it’s little wonder that our visitor count is down. It makes no sense to fight for the money because most visitors to Grass Valley will eventually drive over to Nevada City, and vice versa.

Many folks have been working very hard to attract visitors with parades, street fairs, film and music festivals and other venues that help enhance our small-town atmosphere. I remember the first time my family stayed at the National Hotel in 1966 or so. It was Christmas, and we’d driven up with two other families from San Francisco. There was snow on the ground, and I thought it was one of the most beautiful things I’d ever seen. It doesn’t take much to sell Broad Street in Nevada City or the postcard view of Mill and Main streets in Grass Valley.

Imagine, though, how those two downtowns might look with empty storefronts or boards on the windows. Then imagine how that might affect your own lives in terms of property values, lost sales tax revenues (that pay for many of our public services) or the pride that comes every time you bring one of your own guests to town (especially if they are visiting you from Winnemucca or Fresno). The difference between success and failure of a small business often comes down to three or four more customers per day.

Failing all of that, we may need to look to something a bit more spectacular. Tourists are hard to please these days (spoiled by video games), and it might take something along the lines of a Treasure Island casino pirate ship battle to get them really pumped up. One ship could come over to the Brunswick Basin from Nevada City and the other from downtown Grass Valley. Filled with public officials and dignitaries from each competing municipality, the ships (we’d need to build a waterway by taking advantage of Wolf Creek) meet in the parking lot of … say, Staples … and shoot it out using real cannons (to allow us to one-up Vegas). If we run out of public officials or dignitaries, we may have to ask for volunteers from our pool of bloggers. I’d be more than happy to lead them into battle if that’s what it takes to put, as they say in tourism circles, more butts in beds.

ooo

Jeff Ackerman is the publisher of The Union. His column appears on Tuesdays. Contact him at 477-4299, jeffa@theunion.com, or 464 Sutton Way, Grass Valley 95945.


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