SPARKS — Tourism was the hot topic in Nevada, specifically in Sparks, this week and Sparks Mayor Geno Martini brought the spotlight to the Rail City.
Martini joined Carson City Mayor Robert Crowell and Mesquite Mayor Pro Tempore Geno Withelder for a Mayoral Roundtable on Tuesday afternoon on the opening day of the Governor’s Conference on Tourism. The three mayors sat onstage alongside Lt. Governor Brian Krolicki, discussing tourism issues and successes in each of their cities.
Mayor Martini acknowledged many of the successes in the tourism department, highlighting the city’s branding campaign as a major achievement.
“The taglines and branding were worn out from 1905 so we hired a group to come in and find out everything they could about our city,” Martini said to an audience inside the Rose Ballroom of The Nugget. “Those people came in and tried to get an idea of what Sparks was all about, and it really opened our eyes. It was all about community pride, increasing visitation and bringing economic development.”
Martini said the branding campaign produced the ‘It’s Happening Here’ slogan for the city and the push heightened to bring increasingly more events to the city. A brand leadership team was formed shortly after, according to Martini, whose efforts brought a new website and mobile application, among other things, to City of Sparks headquarters.
“We like to promote ourselves as the destination for events and we have done some of our own marketing to get our name out there as the event city,” Martini said. “(The brand leadership team) has really started to pay off for us and we have gotten some new and better events and our old events are getting better.”
Martini said the branding campaign also informed the city of a minor problem, hindering some people’s abilities to hold events.
“One of the people who came here to study the city said we have some great venues here but nobody knows how to get to them,” he said. “So our team developed a way-finding system and created new signage to show visitors how to get to Golden Eagle Regional Park, the Marina, downtown and several other places.”
Martini was pleased to announce the progress the city has made, but recognized many challenges still remain in the tourism sector. He said the downturn in property and sales taxes caused problems for the whole state and Sparks was no exception.
“Everything that we’ve done lately is one-third. We have laid off one-third of our people, our property taxes are down by one-third and our sales taxes are down by one-third,” Martini said.
The Sparks mayor addressed a trend relating to California businesses who have been crossing the border to open up shop in order to avoid tax structures in California. He said Gov. Brian Sandoval has been a big help to the businesses that have branched into Sparks.
“It is very impressive when you can call a company and try to convince them to come to Sparks, and when they sign on for a visit the governor shows up,” Martini said. “Those businesses are impressed and it has helped bring some new businesses to our area.”
Near the end of the Mayoral Roundtable, Lt. Governor Krolicki asked the city leaders what their primary focus will be in the upcoming Nevada Legislative Session. Martini was quick to answer with the two major issues he felt were most important, then he continued to name a few more of the major issues surrounding the city.
“I think the big thing for us, not just in Sparks but the whole state, is we’ve got to do something with education and with economic development,” he said. “In Sparks, we have been looking at tax distribution we don’t think it is exactly right and that is a discussion we are going to be having for a long time.
The other thing I think we get hammered with as cities is we get unfunded mandates. We get things that we have to do but we don’t have the funding to do them. Those always eat into our revenues.”