Vote on chamber merger today |

Vote on chamber merger today

Susan Wood

Now it’s Nevada’s turn.

The Tahoe Douglas Chamber of Commerce will decide today whether to join forces with the South Lake Tahoe Chamber of Commerce to create one South Shore chamber.

The South Lake Tahoe Chamber board agreed to merge last Thursday by an 18-to-6 margin. An earlier membership survey of both chambers indicated 67 percent who indicated they’d “strongly support” a merger.

Advocates say the proposal, which involves a move to an office yet to be built at the bottom of Kingsbury Grade, will better connect the business community and streamline operations.

Supporters like board President Andrew Strain, Heavenly Mountain Resort vice president of planning, expects the board to vote in favor of the idea to merge but reminded this is one in a series of steps.

“This just sets the stage. We plan to count on and use the skills of the board members to craft a solution (to the completed merge). We’ve got a lot of talented people here who we encourage to get involved in the transition committee,” he said Monday.

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As part of a three-page-long implementation plan, task force teams will handle topics from government relations and program development to communications and finance.

Board member Don Miner is convinced the single chamber will be successful if it focuses on business services and secures consistent funding year after year.

“Neither (chamber) can flourish because of financial constraints,” the Carson Valley chiropractor said.

In particular, the South Lake chamber underwent a series of marketing subsidy cutbacks through the city and was forced to reduce hours of operation to run its visitor center at its offices on Lake Tahoe Boulevard. That office would hold one chamber person, and the Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority would run its visitor center there.

Miner said the chambers need to get out of the promotion business and turn it over to the experts at the LTVA, which wants to upgrade the visitor centers.

“What we hear from every survey is Tahoe is tired. And that’s because there’s no money. We’ve got to keep feeding the Web (site),” he said, referring to the growing competition among tourism destinations.

The LTVA, as a third partner in the deal, would conceivably run the visitor centers for the two chambers, with another tourism attraction located at Edgewood Village. Douglas County administration’s Tahoe Township offices are due to move there, too.

Board member Diane Imbach, who works at Pacific Crest Mortgage, said she feels South Lake Tahoe would gain more from the merger because the Tahoe Douglas Chamber is moving from its Roundhill Square location anyway. The rent rises each year.

“My heart says to vote no, but I think it will pass. There’s too much political pressure,” she said of the momentum of groups and individuals in favor of it.

Imbach doesn’t like the chamber giving up tourism-related activities like Celebrity Golf and the visitor centers. She’s also apprehensive about the errors the South Lake chamber has made in respect to its membership. She believes the California chamber faltered with leading the now-defunct Tourism Promotion Business Improvement District.

But no one has put up an argument who would steer board member Dave Berman of Stateline Office Supply away from a yes vote. But life is unpredictable with differing opinions.

He believes in strength in numbers, and like Miner, welcomes new ideas.

“There are so many overlapping businesses. I think we’d be a tighter knit group,” he said. About 350 businesses belong to both chambers.

But layoffs is an aspect of the merger he’s sensitive to.

“People’s lives are involved,” Berman said.

Even though she believes it will pass today, Tahoe Douglas Chamber Executive Director Kathy Farrell warned the merger won’t be easy.

“I think one of the challenges will be the membership dues,” she said. Both think the membership expecting a drop in dues of up to 35 percent seems “unrealistic.” That’s dictated in the proposal.

The 600 Tahoe Douglas Chamber members pay $185 annually. South Lake’s 950 members pay $150 annually.

“We can’t afford to cut staff – especially if we want to improve service,” said Farrell, who’s been on the job for 22 years. About a handful of chamber staffers will lose their jobs, though the LTVA plans to double the visitor center staffing.

“When I first took the job, I didn’t know the definition of the chamber. But I did know the definition of commerce,” she said, pointing to tourism as a big part of Tahoe commerce. “I think we’ve done a good job of that.”

Tahoe Douglas Chamber of Commerce merger vote

8 a.m., today at Inn By the Lake

3300 Lake Tahoe Blvd., South Lake Tahoe