West Wendover bucking the economic trend

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WEST WENDOVER -- Many cities are still having a tough time in this down economy, especially Nevada casino towns, except for one that seems to be going against the economic trend lately.

As West Wendover City Manager Chris Melville put it, "We're doing pretty good."

Melville considers himself kind of lucky. Then again, when you're the city manager of a casino town, luck is part of the deal.

"We're tightening our belts just like everyone else. We did do that and planned for the worse, but things turned out better for us, so we're really happy about that," he said.

According to the Nevada Gaming Control Board, revenue from Las Vegas, Mesquite, and North Lake Tahoe were all down double digits this past January. But Wendover was up 16 percent, and in the past fiscal year, Wendover isn't doing nearly as bad as the others, down only 4 percent.

Melville says it's because the Wasatch Front, which is Wendover's main market, is also not doing as bad as other places.

"People are looking to get away and take a break and maybe get those things out of their mind, so our economy has actually done pretty well," he said.

That means construction there is still happening. The new city hall complex should be done this summer, and a new recreation facility is in the works. Also, the Rusty Palms is building what will soon be a hotel and casino, and even the Red Garter, which planned to shut down last month, decided to stay open.

"The market here stayed good, and they're committed to the city. Just in our last council meeting a few weeks ago, they said they're here to stay and to keep operating," Melville said.

Another successful part of Wendover is the concert hall. City leaders say shows routinely sell out, proving there is a lot more to do there now than just play cards and roll dice.

John Spillman, marketing manager for the Peppermill, Rainbow and Montego Bay resorts, said, "We have over a hundred shows a year in that concert hall, so Wendover has become more than just a gaming destination. Families can come here, see a show, eat a good dinner, and stay in a nice room for a good value."

Spillman says the good value and the Wasatch Front market keep Wendover running.

"That's where the majority of our business comes from, the Wasatch Front, and so as Utah economy goes, so do we," he said.

And when the economy turns around, as Melville is banking on, he says Wendover will be in an even better shape

"We feel pretty good as a community, and we're happy about things for our future," he said.

Casinos have also put together a charter flight program, which flies thousands of people in every month from more than 60 cities throughout the U.S. and Canada. West Wendover's city manager says those flights are usually full.

E-mail: acabrero@ksl.com

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