By VERNON ROBISON
Last week, members of the Moapa Valley Revitalization Project (MVRP) started a dialog about a streetscape/downtown improvement initiative being proposed for the downtown Overton area. Well…at least they tried to start a dialog.
MVRP downtown streetscape subcommittee chairman Ron Casey came to the Thursday night meeting well prepared with research about available grant funding for such projects. He also had information about how other small communities around the country have benefited tremendously from such efforts. Mr. Casey had sent special invitations to about 75 business/property owners in downtown Overton. He said that he had made personal visits to many of them, to share his goals and encourage their involvement. But when all was said and done, scarcely more than a dozen people attended the meeting; and only a handful of those were downtown business owners.
It’s true that the landscape seems dark for local commerce. The paradigm has shifted over the past five years. Gone are the days of the summertime boaters at Lake Mead when the living was easy and business came in the door with little effort. With lake levels at record lows, it is unlikely that those days will return.
But matters are far from hopeless. The Moapa Valley is literally surrounded by assets that have long gone largely untapped. The Logandale Trails area, for example, is a widely-known and well-used recreation area. But business owners complain that heavy visitation there hasn’t translated into real economic benefits. The Valley of Fire State Park is a world-famous attraction, bringing international visitors even during the heat of summer.
But again, with the exit 75 gateway to the park from I-15, local merchants complain that they have been bypassed. The Lost City Museum, the Overton Wildlife Management Area, the Moapa Valley Wildlife Refuge, Double Negative, historic St. Thomas, the numerous open trails on the east bench of Moapa Valley and across the Mormon Mesa; all of these things should add up to added prosperity. But downtown, folks complain that they don’t add up to much that is noticeable on their balance sheets.
Why is that? Why can’t any, or all, of these attractions bring enough business to town? For the answer to that, maybe we need to look in the mirror.
Just being a stone’s throw from these great attractions doesn’t entitle us to tourist spending. There has to be something about our business district that draws people here and gets them to spread the word to others. And, when it comes right down to it, what is there, really, that would make tourists want to stop in Overton and spend their money?
Local residents may feel a fondness for their downtown community. But, I’m afraid that it’s a fondness born mainly of warm familiarity. Like an ugly baby, downtown Overton generally has the kind of charm that only a mother could love. Looking at it from the viewpoint of a tourist, most of our downtown buildings are in various stages of dilapidation. Many properties are vacant. A few appear abandoned or even condemned. Let’s face it, the Overton business district is tired! And no matter how many visitors that we successfully route through here with surrounding attractions, it won’t change the fact that tourists just don’t want to stop in a run-down old town–unless, of course, they absolutely have to. And so that is what we end up with: the ‘have-tos’.
To gain real tourist spending, downtown Overton has to remake itself into an attraction in its own right. Many good thematic ideas have been brainstormed over the years for the downtown area; from establishing an adobe pueblo motif, to creating an old west pioneer flavor; from adding streetside benches with shade structures and landscaping, to painting colorful history-themed murals on the sides of buildings. Studies have been done. Feedback has been received. High priced consultants have been,,, well, consulted.
Several years ago the Moapa Valley Strategic Planning Committee even completed a set of detailed development standards for the downtown business district, including some of these thematic elements. It was eventually adopted into the county code as a special development overlay.
Any of these ideas, if truly embraced by local business owners, would make the downtown area more inviting and interesting for area visitors to stop in and spend time and money. What’s more it might attract the locals to shop there more often as well.
Mr. Casey even raised the possibility of seeking grant funding, through the MVRP non-profit, that might possibly pay for much of the implementation of such ideas. It would be a lot of work, but the funding is out there.
And finally, there are strong efforts already being made to drive more traffic in to the local business district. For example, the Partners in Conservation group, just last week, announced that it had finally been awarded a site stewardship for Logandale Trails. Their plans include forging a better tie between visitation at Logandale Trails and local businesses. On another front, the MVRP has gone to bat with Nevada Department of
Transportation and done what no one has been able to do before: add Valley of Fire State Park to the I-15 signage at exit 93. Furthermore, an effort to apply for state Scenic Byway status on the state highway through Logandale and Overton is still ongoing. All of these efforts, and more, are being done to draw more people into town.
But to do any good at all, there has to be something here that will make these visitors want to stop. Otherwise, they will just drive on through to the next attraction like they’ve always done before. That is what Mr. Casey’s proposal is all about.
But to even get the project moving in slightest, it needs the full buy-in and complete involvement of downtown property/business owners. Their input is needed. And they stand to gain the most. They must be all-in to make it work.
Business conditions in the downtown area are not going to improve while sitting inside their stores waiting for customers to come and complaining when they don’t. It’s never worked before and won’t work now. As Mr. Casey said, “It is time that this community re-invents itself and try something new.”
Of course there are many of the old-timer business owners in town who would claim that they’ve seen it all before. They would say that the business community has tried to ride that old horse before and has never had any luck. No doubt this is true. Local merchants have indeed had to trod a discouraging road over the years. There is no disputing that.
But just because previous efforts have ended in failure doesn’t mean that all present or future attempts have to as well. There is a multitude of initiatives currently underway, both in the community and in the state, that could easily create a perfect alignment toward success and growth here. Of course there are no guarantees, But if the community, and its business leaders, will engage and get behind the initiative,; if they will push it forward; there’s a good chance that they might succeed this time. On the other hand, if they don’t, the proposal is absolutely sure to fail; just like all the times that it’s been tried before.