It didn’t happen in Lake Tahoe in 1997 | TahoeDailyTribune.com
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It didn’t happen in Lake Tahoe in 1997

Sally J. Taylor and Patrick McCartney

Lake Tahoe news professionals couldn’t have hoped for a better year than 1997.

The president and vice president visited Lake Tahoe, and the national media briefly placed the lake’s environment in a national spotlight.

In June, twin events on the same day each captured national headlines.

The Tahoe Regional Planning Agency voted to ban two-stroke engines from Lake Tahoe by 1999 unless the marine engine industry cleans them up.

And on the same day, a businessman snapped after the TRPA ruled against him, and was killed as he assaulted a business rival.

Yet, some of the biggest stories of 1997 at Lake Tahoe were those that didn’t happen. If hype creates reality, several major stories for 1997 should have been written.

It doesn’t and they won’t be.

Expectations for 1997 included scheduled airline service for the Lake Tahoe Airport, a new South Shore ice skating rink, a long-range Strategic Plan for the Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority and enough snow and rain courtesy of El Nino to warrant a ride on Noah’s Ark.

Maybe later.

SCHEDULED AIR SERVICE

After being left at the altar by RenoAir and kept waiting through 1996 by upstart BooneAir, community leaders hoped 1997 would bring the airline match made in Heaven for the Lake Tahoe Airport.

None showed up.

BooneAir was still a contender but looking less likely. By fall, the relationship with BooneAir had ended with no investors coming forward to get the promises off the ground. The money had flown elsewhere following the Florida crash of a ValueJet plane.

“BooneAir was obviously a big disappointment,” said Tom Davis, a Tahoe businessman, city councilman, 1997 mayor and enthusiastic courter of scheduled air service on the South Shore. “I’m not sure upstart airlines are the answer here.”

The assessment could also apply to the Tahoe Air, which is meeting similar investment obstacles to its formation.

The city spent much of 1997 searching for better prospects and considering other options for the airport.

A few glances from established airlines, which are now seeing healthy profits and looking for expansion opportunities, have left city officials cautiously hopeful for 1998.

This month, the city council is expected to hire a consultant – now waiting in the wings for council approval – to actively pursue major airline service for the Lake Tahoe Airport.

“This is it for us; one more hard sincere effort,” Davis said.

BALLYHOOED EL NIO

Proving Mark Twain wrong, weather scientists have done more than just talk about the weather. They’ve come up with a far-reaching explanation of a global weather pattern called El Nino.

A periodic warming of the ocean in the East Pacific and a reversal of the usual trade winds, El Nino has been linked to everything from floods in Southern California to drought in Australia.

Since last summer, the nation’s media have breathlessly reported the arrival of El Nino, predictions about its likely impacts and the planning by public officials to cope with expected disasters.

Well, not to be picky, but as of the first day of January, the season’s weather has been pretty boring.

Last year, we were hubcap-high in flood water.

This year, skiers are keeping their fingers crossed that one of season’s many flabby storms will finally pack a punch and make everybody respectful of El Nino. Since July 1, San Francisco and Sacramento have each been wetter than Lake Tahoe, where just 6.6 inches of precipitation and 25 inches of snow have fallen in six months.

LTVA STRATEGIC PLAN

As calendars changed years 12 months ago, the process to transform the Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority from a short-sighted marketing organization reacting to this month’s numbers into a long-range planner was well underway.

The effort slowed a little following the closure of U.S. Highway and an emergency marketing campaign. But, like “The Little Engine that Could,” the organization pulled itself over the hill and almost rolled into the station.

Almost.

The Strategic Plan was officially approved in May and a new, long-range marketing plan was developed. As the final touches were being added to an advertising campaign into Orange County – a campaign that might not show results for a couple years – the new strategic plan derailed on September figures that showed declines in gaming revenue and sputtering lodging activity.

Without a quick surge of energy, some feared there soon might not be a station to roll into.

By the end of the year, the long-term view became blurred and the strategic plan was put on hold while short term solutions were pursued in Northern California.

“This is not for long-term sustainable growth, its the arresting point of decline,” said board member Mike Bradford, president of Lakeside Inn & Casino, during the Dec. 30 board meeting.

“We, as a board, owe this community a multi-year marketing plan,” said John Wagnon, vice-president of marketing for Heavenly Ski Resort.

Maybe next year.

RINK PLANS FROZEN OVER

John Wareham took the chance of his life in 1996, quitting his job and devoting all his time to opening an outdoor, regulation-size ice-skating rink is South Lake Tahoe.

Armed with a 50-year lease on a rink site from the city, Wareham begged, borrowed and cajoled enough financing and promises of support to open the ice rink for the first time last January.

But Wareham had exhausted his resources and did not have enough funds to pay off contractors.

The rink opened sporadically, with the help of volunteers, but Wareham eventually lost his lease amid a rising tide of red ink and creditor claims. With Wareham bowing out, the city has been unable to re-open the ice rink yet, leaving South Tahoe residents to look at the facility and wonder what still might be.

WHITTELL ESTATE DEAL STILL IN AIR

By now, the American Land Conservancy figured it would have pulled off a complex swap of public land outside Las Vegas for the historically significant Dreyfus-Whittell estate on Lake Tahoe’s East Shore.

The conservancy has continued to dutifully pay for an option on the 143-acre parcel owned by mutual fund tycoon Jack Dreyfus. If the conservancy can complete the deal, the U.S. Forest Service would acquire the property, while developers would receive real estate on the outskirts of Las Vegas.

If everything goes the way the conservancy and U.S. Bureau of Land Management hope it will, the University of Nevada-Reno would operate a Lake Tahoe research center on the fabled property, on the condition the public would have access too.

When the swap is completed, the pubic will acquire a jewel of Lake Tahoe’s past. Capt. George Whittell, a flamboyant banker, animal trainer and World War I hero, bought up 35,000 acres of Lake Tahoe’s East Shore, including the shoreline from Crystal Bay to Glenbrook, From 1937 to 1939, Whittell commissioned the creation of Thunderbird Lodge and his fabulous motorboat, also called the Thunderbird.

Whittell spared no expense at his estate, installing state-of-the-art lighting displays and electronic listening devices, and built a 500-yard tunnel to connect Thunderbird Lodge with the boathouse.

That day will have to wait, however, as behind-the-scene negotiations continued throughout the year.


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