Tourism recovery sparks flurry of new businesses

Nevada tourism executive Larry Friedman can't remember a time during his two decades in the business that two tourist attractions have opened in rural Nevada within a few days of one another.

But this autumn will see a continued flurry of openings as the industry begins to rebound statewide and several of the new facilities are in rural areas.

The CommRow renovation of the old Fitzgerald's property and the Terry Lee Wells Nevada Discovery Museum in Reno are readying for grand openings, and the newly renovated Mizpah Hotel in Tonopah reopened on Saturday.

Fred and Nancy Cline, owners of Cline Cellars Winery in Sonoma, Calif., purchased the Mizpah Hotel earlier this year and have renovated much of the property constructed in 1907. The hotel has 47 rooms, two restaurants, and casino floor space.

In Elko, the Marriott TownPlace Suites, which opened June 3 and had a grand opening last Thursday, has roared out of the gates, averaging 80 percent occupancy in its first few months.

Friedman, interim director of the Nevada Commission on Tourism, says it's rare for a handful of tourism-dependent businesses to open in such a short time frame especially in rural counties.

"In my 21 years here, I have never had two openings in rural Nevada in the same week," Friedman says.

Tourism, which suffered sharp declines in many Nevada counties throughout the recession, has rebounded in parts of the state but in Washoe County it is lagging, the NCOT reports.

In the first quarter of 2011, visitor counts to Nevada increased 2.2 percent versus a year earlier, a report compiled by the NCOT says. However, visitors to Washoe County declined 4.3 percent in that time. And though first-quarter convention attendance rose 5 percent statewide from 2010, it dipped just over 20 percent in Washoe County.

First-quarter room tax collections have risen in Washoe, Douglas and Elko counties and Carson City.

David Tesseo executive director of Terry Lee Wells Nevada Discovery Museum on South Center Street, says the museum is primarily banking on a strong local following once it opens, but the museum also should serve as an attraction to out-of-towners as well.

Much of the museum's interactive learning material focuses on the history of the Silver State, Tesseo says, but that shouldn't turn off visitors to the area.

"Our mission is to support the education of the children of the Truckee Meadows. But we are welcome to tourists and would love them to come. We are hoping that more families will want to travel to Reno because we are here, and we are hoping that helps the general economy of tourism in Reno."

The Discovery museum could serve as an attraction to adults with children who come to Reno to attend conventions, conferences or simply to gamble, Tesseo says.

"It is one more thing in the redevelopment of downtown Reno that makes Reno an attractive place to visit and bring families."

Businessman Fernando Leal is banking on increasing popularity of rock climbing to make the CommRow venture a success. Amenities include a climbing wall spanning 167 feet of the building's exterior, as well as an indoor bouldering park and spate of small restaurants and live music venues. The success of the venture will in part dictate the extent and scope of renovations to as many as 175 rooms at CommRow.

In Elko, TownPlace Suites general manager Matt McCarty says some of the strength of the hotel's opening is due to the lack of ready housing for people new to Elko, as well as the strength of the Marriott flag.

McCarty says the extended-stay property, which is one of the few properties in Elko to offer full kitchens, has about 40 percent of its reservations booked for five or more nights.

"The Marriot name is the premier name in the lodging industry," McCarty says, "but we could have opened up as an independent and still see this demand; Elko has very large shortage of availability for people to live. A lot of people are staying in hotels, and the people in less-expensive hotels are displacing other corporate guests.

McCarty says the demographic of residents at the TownPlace Suites is comprised from a variety of corporate clients from mining and energy contractors, as well as from the federal government.


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