North Shore casino owners look to legislature for help | TahoeDailyTribune.com

North Shore casino owners look to legislature for help

Andrew Pridgen

CRYSTAL BAY – Casino owners here in conjunction with a handful of Nevada- and California-based property owners and architects are looking for ways to revamp the North Shore stateline corridor including making improvements to current structures and building new affordable housing and entertainment amenities.

In a meeting last week, Crystal Bay Club owner Roger Norman, Nugget owner Jeff Kelly, Tahoe Vista-based developer Alex Mourelatos, local architect Phil Gilanfaar and Cal Neva Managing Director William Hanley met with Nevada State Senate Majority leader William Raggio, TRPA Governing Board member Coe Swobe, and Sen. Randolph Townsend to plead their case.

Norman currently has 12 improvement projects slated for his facility. The first of which, an 80-by-200-foot multi-use rink to be built on one level of the club’s parking garage, has already been thwarted by the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, Norman said.

“We have a 700-spot parking garage and we don’t need that many spaces,” he said. “So why not put the space to good use – something the community could use? But we couldn’t even get through to TRPA’s attorneys on this.”

While Norman said he has been working hard to build a “productive relationship with TRPA,” he admitted he’s frustrated that TRPA staff sometimes does not stick to the letter of its own compact.

Norman said when he proposes ideas like an ice rink or a new underground pedestrian corridor, he is told that it cannot be done because it would, in effect, increase his gaming space.

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Norman cites a section of the TRPA Compact which states provisions to limit construction of gaming and related activities as conducted within a casino, “not to limit any other use of property zoned for commercial use or the accommodation of tourists, as approved by the agency.”

TRPA board member Swobe told casino owners that the Nevada Tahoe Regional Planning Agency would be the group likely handling their concerns. The seven members of the TRPA Governing Board from Nevada also serve as the Governing Board of the NTRPA. The NTRPA’s responsibilities involve structures, housing and gaming. Swobe noted the casino owners could use other avenues to invoke change.

“NTRPA (regulations) can be changed by Nevada Legislature,” Swobe suggested to the members of the legislature present.

Townsend said there was “no end” to the importance of keeping gaming on the North Shore viable.

He insisted that last year the Nevada State General fund was $9 billion – $5 billion of that was revenues from gaming. Townsend maintained the emergence of Indian gaming – which Townsend estimated it is now a $14 billion per year enterprise – will cut deeply into areas like Crystal Bay if they cannot deliver a “first-class” product.

“We have something special here (in Crystal Bay); a history of world-class facilities here – they need to stay viable,” Townsend said.

Raggio said he too feels the area, if given responsible upgrades, could again return to its heyday.

“You probably haven’t gotten the right people to listen that need to listen,” he noted.

Norman said he also wants to work with the legislature to build affordable housing in the area.

“I have about 150 employees,” Norman said. “At our two-year anniversary, we already went through 350 employees.

“Nobody can afford to live here – and you can’t run a viable business when you’re just hiring and training and turning people over.”

“(The casinos) are important to the state. But how do we give the casinos any incentive to make good changes when they’re failing?” said Gilanfaar. “We want the area to be beautiful, we want it to be viable, we want people to be able to work here, we want it to be clean and friendly and classic – but if the money’s not being generated and there is no help from anyone in government agencies to realize this – it will simply die.”