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Consultant: Carson City’s cuisine will draw visitors

Pat Patera

Carson City continues to wrestle with the task of building a brand, a promise that will entice tourists from the Bay Area and beyond.

Along the way, community leaders have embraced identities as the state’s capital city, museum mecca and home of the V&T railroad.

But consultant Roger Brooks thinks otherwise. He envisions an army of tourists that marches in on its stomach.

The city hired his firm, Destination Development Inc. of Olympia, Wash., to identify its golden goose that will lay golden eggs.

And that posed a new challenge, says Candace Duncan, executive director of the Carson City Convention and Visitors Bureau. “People say we paid a $75,000 fee, and he didn’t tell us what we wanted to hear.”

A central sore point: The $55 million project to restore the Virginia and Truckee Railroad between Mound House and Virginia City.

“A lot of people think Roger said, ‘Forget the train,'” says Duncan. “That’s not what he said. We’re not going to abandon it.”

Still, she adds, many tourist railroads in the U.S. are not doing so well, according to Brooks. Historic train rides appeal to an older set and they don’t spend with the wild abandon of youth. And it’s true, she admits, that the V&T doesn’t even come into Carson City. (It terminates on Highway 50 East near the Mound House hill.)

For the past 25 years, Destination Development has examined nearly 500 communities in 42 states plus Canada. In comparison to many of them, says Brooks, Carson City is a much tougher sell.

“It’s a stand-alone community with stiff competition. Look what you have wrapped around Carson City,” he says. “How do you compete with Lake Tahoe or Reno?”

Consider, he adds, that the top reasons people go anywhere is for shopping, dining and entertainment in a pedestrian friendly setting.

And consider that 70 percent of all consumer spending among both locals and visitors takes place

after 6 p.m.

Carson City rolls up the sidewalks at dark, admits Duncan.

“People spend the night where there’s something to do at night,” says Brooks.

Brooks’ solution which the city plans to develop over the summer is creation of a “culinary capital” brand. It starts with the existing downtown restaurant core. Add a bakery, kitchen store and cooking school, and the result could be a dream trip for the myriad fans of television food shows.

Even the V&T railroad must include a dining experience, says Duncan. But it must connect the train with the town perhaps by giving riders a voucher to go in search of dessert at a downtown restaurant.

Carson City’s restaurants are unique, not chain stores, says Duncan and within walking distance of one another. “Travel writers tell us it feels comfortable and real in Carson City,” she says.

And the market is affordable, with a lodging spread of $89 to $189 that encourages out- of-town visitors to spend the night so they can eat a restaurant they’ve sought out.

But the biggest challenge for all tourist markets, says Brooks, is the price of gas.

“It stands at $4 a gallon and will go to $6 within the next 12 months. Airlines raised fares 14 times this year. You’d better really be worth it if I’m going to spend that kind of money to get there.”


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