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Burke: Pahrump missing out on tourists’ dollars

Tourist dollars pass through Pahrump down Highway 160 every day.

The National Park Service estimates that 1.2 million visitors came to Death Valley last year and a significant portion of those visitors traveling by cars, vans, tour buses, and motorcycles pass through Pahrump.

Tapping into those tourist dollars would give Pahrump and Nye County additional revenue for our community but we have done very little to encourage them to stop and spend their tourist dollars here. We have a few excellent tourist stops here; our wineries and a couple of other businesses. But when the primary stop on our main thoroughfare (Highway 160) for buses filled with tourists is the Albertsons with a Starbucks, I would say our offerings are limited at best.

On any given day you can sit in the Albertsons/Walmart shopping center and watch tour buses and passenger vans disgorge tourists into the parking lot where they head into Albertsons to load up on water, snacks, souvenirs and coffee. Our sister towns of Beatty and Tonopah cater to visitors exploring Death Valley and the surrounding region.

Even though they are smaller in size they have some advantages in attracting tourists to stop and spend their money. They both have a centralized main street business district. Even though those downtown areas are tiny they do create a central hub.

In Pahrump, our business districts are scattered and are often a lone casino or business with nothing else nearby. Beatty and Tonopah both have that Old West flavor to them that European tourists are seeking when they travel to Death Valley. We have none.

Not having a centralized business district center hurts our community in other ways, too. Nationally there has been a movement to attract residents back to the centers of towns and cities. Many downtown districts offer wine tastings, microbrewery events, artist evenings, music, farmers markets, and a host of other events to bring locals together to enjoy and celebrate their community. Many older town centers have inexpensive space rents and are catering to young entrepreneurs who are opening restaurants, bars, galleries, and boutique shopping stores. That scenario is going to be difficult to replicate here.

There are too many small parcels of land along Highway 160 with too many different landowners. It would be difficult to try and get so many individual landowners to agree on a cohesive blueprint to create a central shopping and business district. The most likely scenario that has a chance for success is the proposed construction at Spring Mountain raceway. Raceway owners are looking to construct retail stores, a movie theater and a hotel that will be available to the community. Depending on their plan design, it could potentially lend itself to community events and create a gathering area for residents and tourists alike. A plan that incorporates walking paths, sitting areas, and open spaces similar to Town Square in Las Vegas or The District in Henderson would be a great alternative to another strip mall.

Another untapped area that is part of those tourist dollars driving down Highway 160 is motorcycle riders.

Eagle Riders of Las Vegas is the largest Eagle Riders franchise in the world. They rent over 100,000 motorcycles a year from their Las Vegas location. Nearly 90 percent of those rentals are to tourists and 90 percent of those tourist rentals are to foreigners, primarily Europe, Canada, and Australia.

Much of Western Europe is fascinated with the Wild West. In Germany, bestselling author Karl Friedrich May is best known for his adventure novels set in the American Old West. Europeans, especially Germans, want to come and visit Death Valley and the Grand Canyon to experience what we are able to enjoy every day. If you go to the visitors center in Death Valley and listen to what language people are speaking you will hear German, Italian, French, Russian, and many other languages. Several of the bars and restaurants in Beatty have recognized that they have a large number of foreign visitors and print their menus in several languages. Pull into Beatty and Tonopah and you will find dozens of motorcyclists eating and sightseeing.

Yet in Pahrump, there is virtually nothing along Highway 160 that beckons motorcycle riders to stop. The gas station at Winery Road and Highway 160 is the first place many motorcyclists encounter so it has become a popular fuel stop. Recently J-Mar Customs Motorcycle Shop has added indoor seating with Pahrump and Death Valley-themed merchandise for tourists and locals. But little else along Highway 160 in Pahrump beckons motorcyclists (and other forms of transportation) to stop and spend some of their tourist dollars here.

So what is stopping entrepreneurs from adding goods and services along Highway 160 to attract some of those tourists that are heading to Death Valley? Is it our reputation that it is difficult to start a business here? A lack of support from the commissioners or residents? Or something else?

The money is already passing through our town every day but virtually none of it is getting left behind for our community’s use.

Tim Burke is a businessman, philanthropist, educator and Pahrump resident. Contact him at timstakenv@gmail.com

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