60,000 expected for New Year’s bash | TahoeDailyTribune.com

60,000 expected for New Year’s bash

by Sally J. Taylor

As South Shore merchants buy up champagne, streamers and souvenirs for the biggest New Year’s celebration of the millennium, they’re also preparing for a siege.

“Take a deep breath and brace yourself,” Pat Atherton, the president of the Tahoe-Douglas Chamber of Commerce, said regarding the influx of visitors expected to celebrate New Year’s 2000 on the south shore of Lake Tahoe.

Both the Tahoe-Douglas and South Lake Tahoe chambers are also hoping the community will spruce itself up to welcome the masses, even if most of the town closes up early.

That is, all but the special parties throughout town and the massive impromptu party of young people who gather in the street along the casino corridor every year.

Crowds last year were estimated at about 40,000 mostly underaged youth. That was double the usual crowd of 20,000.

This year, law enforcement officials are preparing for crowds of 60,000.

“The vendors that we’ve been talking to, some are a little bit nervous,” said Atherton, who also owns Lake Tahoe Chocolate Factory. “They’re taking the opportunity and closing up early to safeguard their property.”

That includes Atherton, who has a candy shop inside Caesars Tahoe.

“Frankly, I just want to get my employees out of there.”

Earlier in the year, Atherton was part of a group of business, government and law enforcement representatives looking for extra events to divert the Stateline crowds from what’s expected to be an overenthusiastic celebration.

The New Year’s Eve Task Force considered organizing events elsewhere in town to spread the crowds out. They examined attention diversions such as a laser show or using Harveys outdoor elevator like a countdown ball. They also inquired about vendor carts to supply non-alcoholic beverages, food and souvenirs to give the revelers something to do less rowdy than throwing drinks and punches.

All the ideas cost money that was not available, Atherton said. Plus, law enforcement represents considered the proposals something other than solutions to crowd control.

“We came to the conclusion after getting both the South Tahoe Police Department and the Douglas County Sheriffs input that any side entertainment and alternate event would, in fact, spread their forces too thin,” Atherton said.

“There will be more crowds, but, when push comes to shove, they’ll be confined to the same (Stateline) area.”

The lack of alternative entertainment has fringe benefit.

“The young people don’t have any other source of entertainment,” Atherton said. “Once (the New Year countdown) is over with, they start disappearing because there’s nothing to keep them there.”

For the few hours they’re expected to gather shoulder to shoulder between the casinos, law enforcement are preparing with extra people and extra gear. They hope their full-scale presence will keep the celebrations safe and fun.

The full-force showing, however, is leaving other security forces a little lean. Private security company’s often hire off-duty law enforcement to provide extra security for private businesses.

Pete Mac Roberts, president of the South Lake Tahoe Lodging Association and manager of Viking Motor Lodge in the casino area has already been told no extra security is available.

“I’m going to call over to Fallon (Naval Base) to see if we can pick up some off-duty security,” he said.

Inside the casinos, security personnel will be checking identifications at the door to ensure that only over 21-year-old crowds are enjoying their gaming establishments.

Elsewhere in town, some restaurants, convention centers, ski resorts, sternwheelers and motels will host parties – not to mention all the gatherings of friends and relatives toasting the millennium. But for most merchants, the welcome mat will be rolled up and stored behind locked doors.

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