Last week, the council voted 3-2 to petition the state legislators to allow Sparks to separate itself from the RSCVA and form its own visitors and tourism authority. Councilmen John Mayer and Phil Salerno were opposed to the resolution. Salerno is currently a board member representing Sparks on the RSCVA. Councilmen Ron Schmitt, Ron Smith and Mike Carrigan were in favor of it.
There are several reasons why Sparks will not get this bill out of committee. One reason is the room tax in Sparks represents almost $5 million annually, or about 12 percent of the revenue for the RSCVA, and most of it is leveraged against to pay on debt.
Another reason is that John Ascuaga’s Nugget opposes the change, saying that any change might weaken the efforts of the RSCVA to attract conventions, meetings and general tourism throughout all of northern Nevada. With a total of 23,000 hotel and motel rooms in Sparks, the Nugget probably owns 15,000 of them. Without John’s support, the city doesn’t have a chance.
Some of the most obvious reasons the bill will fail were expressed by State Sen. Maurice Washington, who represents Sparks. He said he didn’t know what the city council members were thinking. I agree with him. I don’t know what they are thinking either. Maybe thinking is not a required job skill for politicians.
Washington said “the city of Sparks, despite its outcry that the RSCVA treats them like a stepchild, really benefits from the efforts of the RSCVA.”
He said, “Right now, Sparks doesn’t have the name recognition as Reno or Tahoe.” But when people come to Reno or Tahoe, they eventually visit Sparks.
Maurice punctuated his statement by chastising the city council. He said he would tell the council to “cool your jets, ride the tide and enjoy the profits.” You can imagine what Sen. Raggio, R-Washoe County, and the rest of the legislature will tell them.
Even Sparks Mayor Geno Martini realizes the time is not right for a change. He said, “Sparks has not grown into a destination large enough to need its own convention and visitors authority.” He said he didn’t know if we have created a tourist destination in Sparks yet, but we are close to it.
This is not the first time the council has crossed swords with the RSCVA. About 15 years ago, it initiated a 1-percent increase in room tax for Reno, Sparks and the county. Reno and the county increased their tax. But because of pressure from Ascuaga, Sparks didn’t increase theirs. This gave the Nugget an advantage over Reno and the county in bidding for conventions. The RSCVA has treated Sparks as a “stepchild” ever since.
Mayor Tony Armstrong made several pleas to the RSCVA for better representation of Sparks in the authority’s literature and on their logo. The RSCVA made a few token concessions and told Sparks to raise its room tax.
So, why does Sparks want to form their own convention and tourist agency? And who is really prodding the council?
Well, let’s see. Years ago John Ascuaga wanted out of the RSCVA. Now, he’s defending the RSCVA and wants to remain a member. Carrigan is in favor of establishing a new agency and he was one of the councilmen who opposed Ascuaga and voted for Harvey Whittemore’s Lazy 8 project.
So, I wonder if this is part of the ongoing battle between Ascuaga and Whittemore? I wonder if Whittemore is the political culprit behind the scenes pushing for his own convention authority. He could control the new agency and use it to promote his own business and compete with the Nugget.
Whittemore is the most influential lobbyist in the state and if anyone can pull it off, he can. But he will have to deal with the most powerful politician in the state, Raggio.
It was Raggio who set up the legislation that converted the old county fair grounds authority into the RSCVA. And, by law, the only funding the agency receives is from room tax. Raggio is never going to allow Sparks or Whittemore to divide his political baby in half.
Sparks would be better served if it found a better use for its only BDR, although I doubt if they will. That might require some thinking. Maybe they could ask Whittemore if he has any more bright ideas. Or better yet, ask John Ascuaga. He’s been telling the city council what to do for the last 40 years.
David Farside is a Sparks resident and political activist. The polemics of his articles can be discussed at email@example.com. His Web site is www.thefarsidechronicles.com.