How feasible is a permanent events venue site, and where would its location be? That question could be answered via a $25,000 feasibility study that might be recommended to Mammoth’s Town Council by the Economic Stimulus Council (ESC). During a joint meeting with the Mammoth Lakes Events Coalition (MLEC) on Dec. 15 Recreation Commissioner Sean Turner raised the issue of the study and how it would be funded, in addition to other concerns surrounding such a venue.
Formed in 2011 by Town Council member Matthew Lehman, the ESC was established to complement the MLEC, a largely private-sector effort which came into existence about two years ago.
Turner said he considers the study, part of a Measure R application request that will eventually come before the Recreation Commission from the Town’s Planning Department, “of timely importance.” The events venue issue has been a topic of discussion since at least 2007. In his remarks to the group, Turner said he doesn’t want to see another litany of studies being done without anything happening on/in the ground, but did acknowledge, “It’s imperative that the appropriate studies be done first, especially so we don’t end up with another ice rink situation … believe me, I more than most need a large events site for Bluesapalooza immediately!”
That need has been further enhanced by the recent real estate listing of the Bluesapalooza’s current venue, Sam’s Wood Site, which is also home to other summer events, and the notice from the U.S. Forest Service that areas in and around Shady Rest Park will not be on the list of sites for consideration.
Turner said he isn’t sure [the Recreation Commission] had been clear enough with Town Senior Planner Ellen Clark on exactly what needs to be studied. Initially, a $60,000 figure was put forward, but that was later reduced to “up to $25,000.” Turner suggested the study should be expanded in scope to cover more marketing feasibility as much as actual environmental, mobility and other logistic questions of the potential event sites.
Serious questions still remain, according to Turner, such as: should the study be funded via Measure U instead, how big should the study be and is $25,000 enough … should it be $60,000 and if so is that enough? He suggested starting with an inventory of what events Mammoth Lakes can support, and what the town can grow that’s already here versus what can be targeted elsewhere that could be brought here.
Fellow Recreation Commissioner Teri Stehlik advocated a comprehensive study that answers all questions, but wouldn’t start until more information was available. “Who’s going to program the venue and make sure it’s booked,” she queried. “We’re not looking to waste time, but why spend $25,000 on a technical study until we know what we’re doing.”
Local businessman John Vereuck pointed to Mammoth Lakes Tourism as a touchstone point. “Who died and made the Recreation Commission God?” he asked rhetorically. “This should start with [Mammoth Lakes Tourism Director] John Urdi; that’s what we’re paying him to do. We have lots of event coordinators, but no real event planners … we need one of those,” Vereuck observed. Turner supported the idea of hiring an “events czar.”
Vereuck went on to say that the site should be approached from what’s available. “There are roughly six viable sites, but we already have heard that three to four are going to be eliminated by the Forest Service,” he told the group. “Let’s look at those remaining two before we start spending money.” Apart from the uptick in events that have sprung up at Sam’s, he also cited the debut of the Mud Run at the Village this summer, which he said was an added success by having Mammoth Rocks located there as well.
Also an option that isn’t necessarily off the table: buying Sam’s Wood Site, though whether it would be a final option and how that sale would be accomplished are both unknowns.
Urdi said he does have 25 years of experience in the events world. “The Chamber is in a resurgence mode, and this could be done through MLT,” Urdi said. “I don’t want to step on anyone’s toes, but I agree we need an events planner.” He pointed to date overlaps and other scheduling conflicts that have potentially worked against several local events in years past. “Obviously there’s room to improve.”
Stehlik said she was worried about pulling Urdi in too many different directions, and funding an event planner position would be an issue. MLT, she noted, was set up for marketing, not event producing. Vereuck took her point, suggesting that money be added to the MLT budget, and Urdi could delegate an events planner.
An “objective” person should fill the events planner role, Stehlik thought, and in any event the site needs to be selected first before a planner is considered.
Mammoth Unified School District Superintendent Rich Boccia spoke to the site problem, pointing out that MUSD has two 12-acre parcels, and a football field. “I can envision a ‘Huskies Dome,’” Boccia quipped, adding that his parcels come without some of the complications or other entanglements that encumber other potential sites.
At the end of the meeting, Lehman indicated the likelihood that some form of the $25,000 feasibility study will ultimately be recommended to Town Council. “I say let’s just do the studies, if they haven’t already been done, and get rubber on the road,” Turner urged.