Vote due on chamber merger | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Vote due on chamber merger

Susan Wood

Dan Thrift / Tahoe Daily Tribune/ Nancy Gardner, who owns two Red Hut Cafes, one in California and one in Nevada, is supporting the merger of the two chambers of commerce.

The South Lake Tahoe Chamber of Commerce may decide Thursday whether to merge with its counterpart on the Nevada side – a proposal that’s been under the business community’s microscope for months.

The Tahoe Douglas Chamber vote is scheduled Tuesday. The merger requires a quorum as in a majority to pass and a yes vote from both boards to advance. A board president would break a tie.

The notion among supporters is the merger would create a more streamlined, efficient business advocacy group that would be accountable, visible and personable.

The concept isn’t without its critics. Concerns raised have ranged from the cost of a new building lease to having less California representation if a combined move goes forward in Nevada at the proposed Edgewood Village.

The proposal calls for the combined chamber to share space, including a conference area, in a to-be-constructed building at the bottom of Kingsbury Grade with Douglas County administration, Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority and a visitors center on the bottom floor.

A membership survey of both chambers indicated 67 percent said they’d “strongly support” the concept. If the merger advances, 82 percent said they’d “continue to be a member.” But South Tahoe chamber members have expressed less enthusiasm about moving to Nevada.

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“None of the California members want the office in Nevada, but they want to merge,” South Lake’s Executive Director Duane Wallace said in summary Tuesday.

Board member and longtime South Lake Tahoe City Councilman Tom Davis said he has reservations about small California businesses having to cross the state line for representation. He’s concerned South Lake will lose its building on Highway 50 – which it rents from the city for $1 a year. He plans to address the board with these concerns Thursday. The way the proposal now stands, the South Lake building would turn into an expanded visitor center.

“I’m not against a merger. I’m a team player. It’s whatever the board decides. But perception is reality to many of our small businesses. If it’s not broke, don’t fix it. We’ve got 50 years of history here. We can’t afford to make a mistake again,” Davis said. He was referring to the chamber-led tourism promotion business improvement district that disbanded for lack of consensus from its board.

On the contrary, others believes the chamber will represent a broader section of the community that has felt disenfranchised. Some point to the two chambers representing only a third of the 4,000 businesses in town as one reason to do something different.

“It’s disingenuous to say California business would be lost in the shuffle because we put an office in Nevada,” said Mike Bradford of Lakeside Inn and Casino, an advocate who’s spearheaded the merger concept as the South Lake chamber president.

Membership dues will be structure based on which services members select. In a best-case scenario, Bradford predicts the dues could even be lowered by as much as 35 percent. His group pays $150 a year, and Tahoe Douglas members shell out $185.

“We don’t intended to increase dues to make this happen. The important thing is, we’re not balancing anything on the members shoulders,” Bradford said.

Staff cuts – including the loss of one executive director – and equipment reductions are expected in the two-year plan. A 15-member board made up of four directors each from both states, three at large and another three people appointed by the board.

The South Lake chamber, with an annual budget of $390,000, serves 950 members. The Tahoe Douglas group maintains a $550,000 budget and services 600 members. About 350 business members belong to both and account for about $100,000 in revenue.

When asked how the chambers would offset that loss, Bradford said: “We don’t.”

In the long run, the casino chief sees savings in others areas and an increased membership.

This is not business as usual. And that’s fine with Nancy Gardner, who runs Red Hut restaurants in both states and is a member to the two chambers.

“I think it’s a wonderful idea. I believe they’ve done all their homework on this. As an old codger, I hate to see efforts being repeated,” she said.

Gardner downplayed the mistrust from some California merchants across the state line.

“People need to see what would happen to business if Heavenly and casinos weren’t there,” she said.

Merger votes

What: South Lake Tahoe Chamber of Commerce merger vote

Where: Harrah’s Lake Tahoe; 8 a.m. Thursday

What: Tahoe Douglas Chamber of Commerce merger vote

Where: Inn By the Lake; 8 a.m. March 21