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Challenge for Sparks: New special events

Rob Sabo

Sparks hosts some of northern Nevada’s most popular special events, and city officials have been stumping hard the past few months to lure more special events to the city in order to boost tax revenues.

But finding new special events is no easy task.

Ron Schmitt, City of Sparks councilman and chair of the tourism and marketing committee, says the city’s Brand Leadership Team identified the need for additional special events to increase revenues. City officials hosted “familiarization tours” for event promoters in 2010 and 2011 to garner attention and to promote the city’s special events venues Victorian Avenue, Sparks Marina, Golden Eagle Regional Park, and the Rock Park Whitewater Park.

“We brought people in from around Nevada who had never thought of Sparks, as well as from out of area,” Schmitt says. “We’ve been looking nationwide. Once we put the word out, there has been great response from people looking at having a presence on the West Coast.”

However, Schmitt says there is no set formula for attracting new special events to the city.

“We couldn’t find any government agency where we could do an RFP for special events we are kind of charting new territory right now,” he says.

Several new special events already are slated for 2012, city officials say. And while no new special event may ever enjoy the popularity of the Best in the West Nugget Rib Cook-off, the additional special events provide much-needed tax revenue, as well as increase the city’s power to draw larger events, city officials say.

Two events already have committed for this year:

* Beach Sports Network plans a water-cross and beach volleyball event at the Sparks Marina June 30 and July 1.

* Expedition Man endurance festival, a newly created triathlon, is set for August 25.

Two other events a brew festival in September or October, and stop on the Quicksilver Tony Hawk Tour skateboarding festival at Burgess Skate Park are being finalized, says Tracy Domingues, director of the Sparks Parks and Recreation department.

The water craft races at the Sparks Marina still are pending funding, Domingues says, but when that funding comes in the event is a sure go. The Expedition Man triathlon features a 2.4-mile swim starting a Zephyr Cove; a 112-mile bike ride that includes a drop into Carson City, and a 26.2-mile run ending at Sparks Marina.

It’s harder to draw a new special event than a new convention to the region.

Sales staff for hotels and tourism agencies can provide steep room rate discounts and other significant financial incentives. But there aren’t too many financial perks available to help convince event organizers to host their events in Sparks. The City of Sparks has a limited budget of about $110,000 for special events this year, with a maximum allocation of $15,000 per event, Schmitt says.

Events also can apply to the Reno-Sparks Convention and Visitors Authority for funding to help with marketing and related activities.

“Up front we are very clear that we have a very limited budget,” Schmitt says. “We make no commitment to them that there will be funding. We sell ourselves on the fact that we are a city that knows how to sell special events and we have distinct venues and our expertise to offer.”

Domingues says the most challenging aspect of finding new special events for Sparks is getting written commitments from event organizers. City officials ideally seek family-oriented events that fit into Spark’s hometown feel, such as Star Spangled Sparks and Sparks Hometown Christmas parade, but some events, such as beer and wine festivals, just make sense economically.

“Not every brew festival is family oriented, but you also have to take into account what will improve the economic stability of our area and drive business to the downtown area,” Domingues says.

Sparks Mayor Geno Martini says that the Sparks City Council has committed to making Sparks the premier destination for special events in northern Nevada. The goal, Martini says, is to make Sparks a place where something is always happening.

“Sparks has always been known as a unique family community for special events,” Martini says. “Our branding and marketing efforts give us a story to tell our visitors and potential businesses and developers. This is why special events are so important for our City.

“They help bring revenue, particularly to our merchants, and they also enhance our quality of life and increase tourism. As we tell our story locally, regionally and beyond our borders, Sparks will become be a place where there is always something happening. It is a long-term strategy, however, and it requires city resources, successful special events and patience.”


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