Carson is becoming a better hotel/motel town, even if numbers don't show it

Carson City's car classic last week had more success than Reno's car show is now having in filling Carson's hotel and motel rooms.

Hot August Nights has not lured nearly the sellout overnight visitors to Carson City that Reno's biggest event attracted before the 1998 riot.

Only 10 of 25 hotels and motels in Carson City reported having all rooms booked for this weekend as of Thursday morning. The Silver Dollar Car Classic, on the other, sold out all Carson City rooms last weekend when classic cars cruised the local streets, said Candy Duncan, executive director of the Carson City Convention and Visitors' Bureau.

"Used to be," Duncan mused when asked if Hot August Nights was big business for Carson City even though it's a Reno event.

Duncan said up to the 1998 Hot August Nights, reservations were needed months in advance to secure a room in Carson City for the closing weekend of Nights.

"I just heard even the Reno Hilton has some rooms," Duncan said Thursday morning. "The attitude seems to be that (Nights) is not what it was. This is the second year in a row that we're not sold out for Hot August Nights. In years past, it was just crazy with people calling for rooms in July, even in January. Hearing that even Reno has rooms is of concern because it's the busiest event for the region."

Pinon Plaza and Carson Station have yet to sell out, though all rooms at both should have guests by the weekend, said Jackie Behan, sales and advertising director for both.

"We try to book for other things than Hot August Nights because other people are more involved with local things," Behan said.

Carson City has an erratic track record with hotel/motel occupancy on its own, without overflow visitors from Reno shying away from Hot August Nights.

Without a sudden golf boom in the past two years, transient occupancy tax (room tax) collections might still be in the $600,000 range as it was in 1989. Room tax collections fell short of $700,000 until three new golf courses in the immediate area opened in 1998.

The last complete fiscal year, 1998-99, brought in $772,000 in room tax. Numbers still being calculated for 1999-2000 may reach $800,000.

The visitors' bureau gets about 68 percent of room tax funds, which makes up nearly all the bureau's budget to market Carson City for tourism, preferably tourists who will spend the night at a local motel or hotel.

Even with two new hotels adding 220 rooms in the past two years, Carson City's total room count has remained fairly flat. For every new room added, almost as many rooms were removed from the tourism list because properties like the Westerner, the Rand Avenue Motel and Carson City Inn have converted to weekly or monthly rental.

Carson City had 1,467 motel/hotel rooms in early 1999. Today the number is 1,490 but the real number is only 1,377 with weekly-monthlies subtracted.

Monthly occupancy numbers have increased each year in the summer months in the past three years. The off-season, from October to April, has been inconsistent.

"Those numbers aren't going to tell you the whole story," Duncan said. "There's improvement even if the numbers don't show it. If I look where we were 10 years ago, we've made great strides. We're not going down. We're hanging in there."

Duncan reckons each new room in the past few years was a quality room that replaced a lower quality room that was demolished or converted.

But the local motel/hotel industry still hasn't recovered from the closure of the Ormsby House in 1993-95 and bankruptcy problems at the city's largest hotel in the years on both ends of the closure.

"What has hurt us is our centerpiece property," Duncan said. "It has never been the premier resort it should have been."

Duncan said the Ormsby House's troubles have probably scared away plenty of potential convention and business meetings over the years. Plus, prospective hotel builders may have kept away after watching the Ormsby House struggle, Duncan said.

Even with new owners at the Ormsby House since September, she doesn't look to that hotel for the future but rather to the Pinon Plaza, which has become the second-largest lodging property in Carson City.

The Pinon Plaza opened a 64-room hotel in summer 1998 and rushed to add an 84-room expansion for this summer, at least a year ahead of schedule.

"I see a lot of new (hotel/motel) growth ahead for us because of the Pinon Plaza," Duncan said. Hotel builders might think, "If they can do well, we can do well."

Behan said the Pinon Plaza wants diverse visitors - from golfers and gamers to conventioneers and sightseers.

"The old Ormsby House (in the 1980s) was the heart of town," Behan said. "I do think we are moving that heart out here (to Pinon Plaza). We're building perception."

The 147-room Plaza Hotel (not to be confused with the Pinon Plaza) is the second property in the new era of Carson City lodging options. The Plaza in its new form opened at the end of October 1998 after combining the neighboring Plaza Inn, Plaza Motel and Sierra Vista Motel, supplying 73 new rooms in the process.

The Plaza has sold out for the coming weekend and the entire Hot August Nights week has been a near sell-out. Indeed, the Plaza has had more sell-out weekends this summer than last summer through early August, said general manager Mike Millard.

"We have kept reasonable rates for Hot August Nights," Millard said. "$200 a night for a dive is not reasonable."


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