Labor Day boat race may return |

Labor Day boat race may return

Sally J. Taylor

A resurrected sternwheeler race and other Labor Day special events could breathe life into fall tourism if the proposed celebration clears the second of two funding hurdles.

On Thursday, the Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority Board of Directors approved $90,000 for the three-day event, conceived as a fall season kickoff. Bob Anderson was selected from a pool of five applicants to be the coordinator.

Anderson, a tour operator, has previously worked for the Incline Village Convention & Visitors Bureau including work on Shakespeare at Sand Harbor.

Funding for the Labor Day event is expected to be approved soon by the Douglas County Board of Commissioners.

The Tahoe-Douglas Visitors Authority, which provides some funding to the LTVA, previously approved the event.

“This is the first real partnership between the TDVA, LTVA and Douglas County,” said Skip Sayre, marketing director for Harrah’s Lake Tahoe, a TDVA director and member of the LTVA marketing committee.

“All of the things contained in this event are doable,” he said. “We talk about a lot of special events and do a lot of ‘ready, aim. Aim.'”

Sayre explained that the event proposal has three major activities designed to drive up occupancy for both Friday and Sunday nights during the Labor Day weekend.

Friday night, the Stateline casinos would host a gaming event, possibly a slot tournament. Among other prizes, winners would receive a spot on the sternwheelers for the race planned as the main event on Saturday.

A revived sternwheeler race has already been approved by Hornblower Cruises, owners of the Tahoe Queen, and Travel Systems Ltd., owners of the M.S. Dixie II.

To encourage visitors to stay through Sunday night, a major fireworks display is planned that night.

“The quality of the Fourth show provides a good opportunity to (draw) return visits for Labor Day,” he said.

The three-pronged event could be tied to other cultural and historical activities. Such proposals have included tie-ins to the state sesquicentennial, lumberjack competitions and picnic themes.

In the 1980s, the Memorial Day Great American Sternwheeler Race was a major event pitting the Queen and the original M.S. Dixie in a race that gained widespread media coverage. The races ended in 1989 due to disagreements between Travel Systems Ltd. and former Queen owner Joe Thiemann.

Both sternwheelers have changed since then. The larger M.S. Dixie II was launched in 1994 to replace its predecessor and the Tahoe Queen has new engines as well as new owners.

While some event proponents hoped to see a new Memorial Day celebration, marketing advisors recommended the fall event due to the longer lead time to get started and the ability to promote it through the summer season.

“If successful, we’d look at Memorial Day/Labor Day bookend events for 1999,” Sayre said.

The Labor Day event was originally expected to be completely funded by Douglas County from room tax revenue set aside last year for a new “home-run” event to increase tourist nights.

With a county budget shortfall expected as the result of a Nevada legislative mandate to gradually shift 65 percent of room tax revenue from county services to tourism promotions, commissioners are looking at options to make up the difference, including the event fund.

“The question is what the LTVA can come up with that I can take to my board (as evidence of LTVA commitment),” said Commissioner and LTVA director Don Miner. “Matching is always good business. It helps move the commitment level.”

“Rather than a Douglas County event,” Sayre said, “it’s a better event in the long run if it’s a partnered event.”

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