What can Madera County do to make itself attractive to visitors? Madera County Economic Development Commission Executive Director Bobby Kahn has several ideas:
“I think what we need to do is take a strategic look at tourism and the potential we’re going to have with this new influx of visitors due to the new casino. I’m not a big fan of meetings after meetings, but sometimes you have to sit down and figure out the best directions you need to take, and then you need to go out and implement that strategy.
“You’re going to have to try to recognize the visitor that’s going to be coming here, and figure out what we can do to get that extra night’s visit from them, and to make sure they want to do something than just gamble when they get here.
“With that, you’re going to have to have attractions that are relatively local to the location of the casino. For example, you might be able to attract them to a couple of wineries either before or after they have spent their time gambling. I think there might be a play there for our local golf courses. There’s Muni just down the road. There’s River Bend. There’s the Country Club course for those who happen to be members of other country clubs.”
He said the East Side of Madera will be at a disadvantage starting out.
“Unfortunately, Madera is a tale of two cities. You have the West Side and the East Side. The economic strength is on the West Side, while the East Side doesn’t have much economic strength. One thing I think has helped improve the strength of Madera is the economic development at the Fairgrounds. In the old days, you didn’t have anything along the freeway to attract people. Anything people didn’t want downtown, they’d put it next to the freeway. That’s where your wrecking yards went.
“That’s changing. It’s nice to see what the city did, for example, with the Ellis Street overcrossing. It’s more than just a concrete slab.”
He said efforts to improve the East Side may have come to at least a temporary end. “One terrible thing has been the loss of Redevelopment Agency funding (after the governor and the Legislature killed redevelopment agencies throughout the state). That has been the only source of money for fixing up the old part of town. A lot of work has been done to fix up the city. I always give Jim Taubert a lot of credit for that. He has used redevelopment the way it should be used.”
He said moving people around town could be improved.
“A corridor that could take you from Avenue 17 to Highway 41 could be a great thing, for many reasons. It’s a natural transportation corridor.” He said it would help visitors move easily from one casino to the other, and to Yosemite National Park as part of their visits.
“Having three casinos is ideal for bringing people into an area.” Besides gambling, he said, all three casinos will offer entertainment, dining and other recreation.
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Tomorrow: Madera City Council Member Sally Bomprezzi discusses the many advantages Madera already has, and how the city might capitalize on them.