Chamber members want merger | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Chamber members want merger

Susan Wood

Dan Thrift / Tahoe Daily Tribune/ Renee Gates, visiting from Interlaken, N.Y., stops by the Tahoe-Douglas Chamber of Commerce Visitors Center on Tuesday.

Talk of the two Lake Tahoe chambers of commerce merging has gone well beyond rumors on the street – 67 percent of the membership from both organizations put it in writing that they’d “strongly support it.”

That’s but one result of a survey sent out by the South Lake Tahoe and Tahoe Douglas chambers of commerce a few weeks ago.

Twenty-one percent of the respondents said they’d “somewhat support” the idea, Tahoe Douglas Chamber Executive Director Kathy Farrell hinted Tuesday. A committee exploring the cost-saving notion will meet Friday to further tabulate the results.

“So far the indication is supportive,” she said.

South Lake Tahoe Chamber member Lori Cramer of Sierra Weddings is adamant about the merger being a good idea.

“I think, absolutely, it needs to happen. We’re spending separate money for the same thing only five miles apart,” she said.

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If they did merge, 82 percent said they’d continue to be a member.

Still, Farrell and South Lake Chamber Executive Director Duane Wallace cautioned many issues would need to be addressed. Both memberships numbering 864 on the California side and 640 in Nevada would need to agree on the site to house a joint office. About 300 members have joined both chambers, Wallace added.

Wallace hopes to raise South Lake’s membership back to 1,000 after fund-raising drives. Standard attrition has reduced it from 929 in 2004.

The Tahoe Douglas Chamber is looking into moving from the Roundhill Square building it rents to the Edgewood Village Center at the bottom of Kingsbury Grade at Highway 50. South Lake Tahoe’s building it rents for $1 from the city is situated on Lake Tahoe Boulevard next to the Senior Center.

The two business advocacy groups would also need to determine how many visitor centers to operate. Both administrative offices have two on site. Further considerations include the juggling of laws in two states and two sources of funding. South Lake’s budget is $390,000, while Tahoe Douglas’ is about $550,000.

It may not be easy, but it may be worth it. In particular, the South Lake Chamber withstood a $100,000 reduction of marketing subsidies from the city in the last two years, forcing it to cut back hours at its visitor center. Tahoe Douglas has maintained its level of funding, but its rent climbs every year. The organization now pays $7,000 a month.

The two chambers already participate in joint mixers, created a combined directory and co-operate Leadership Lake Tahoe – a leader- spawning program that started here a few years ago.

South Lake’s chamber just turned 50 years old. Tahoe Douglas has 40 years under its belt.

Wallace said he’s not surprised by the genuine interest to merge from the membership.

“There’s always been a desire to take a better look at this,” he said Tuesday.

The discussion, which Wallace was around for, came up in the mid- 1980s but never materialized.

Earlier this year, the Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority and Tahoe Douglas Visitors Authority merged, giving Executive Director Patrick Kaler joint authority over the $2.3 million tourism marketing organization.

“It takes a tremendous amount of work. It could have been the times weren’t right for it,” Wallace said.

Beyond the basic nuts and bolts of its business, the membership was also asked what the perceived benefits would be. The choice of answers ranged from more political influence at different levels of government to a reduction of competition between the two groups.

The dialogue comes at a time when a small, informal gathering of disgruntled company operators tries to galvanize support to form another business group called the Business & Professional Alliance.