Wednesday, Dec. 4, 1996 | 11:59 a.m.
IT'S now perfectly proper to call the state line Primm.
You can also call it growing.
Nevada's newest community was once little more to millions of motorists than a dusty milepost marking the start of the final leg of the trek from Southern California to the casinos of Las Vegas.
Today, it's home to 500 residents, three booming casinos and 2,700 hotel rooms, a spectacular golf course and the world's tallest and fastest roller coaster.
Soon, it'll be even bigger -- a full-service destination resort featuring a massive retail center, more golf courses, additional sporting amenities and even more breathtaking thrill rides, if Gary Primm has his way.
"We are limited only by our imaginations," Primm, chairman of Primadonna Resorts Inc., said during ceremonies Tuesday marking the official renaming of the border settlement on Interstate 15 in honor of his late father, Ernest.
Ernest Primm bought a 400-acre site near what was then U.S. 91 about 40 miles south of Las Vegas for about $15,000 in 1951, and added another 400 acres a short time later.
For two decades, a maverick Texan nicknamed Whiskey Pete struggled to keep a two-pump service station, bar and snack counter named Bordertown afloat at the site, according to Thomas Clark of the state Board of Geographic Names.
Whiskey Pete died, and Ernest Primm added a 12-room hotel and tiny casino to the property, eventually developing it into the successful Whiskey Pete's hotel-casino.
Ernest Primm died in 1981, but son Gary expanded the operation with construction of the Primadonna in 1990 and Buffalo Bill's in 1994. The latter boasts Desperado, a roller coaster that's attracted thousands of riders since its debut.
"When I reflect back on the dreams my father had for this area, I feel a lot of emotion," Primm said Tuesday. "It's a tremendous highlight for our family to have something like this named after him. First there was Laughlin, Nevada, (the Colorado River resort area named for casino owner Don Laughlin) and now there's Primm, Nevada."
Primadonna Resorts began discussions last year with the developers of Forum Shops at Caesars for construction of "a highly themed" shopping center that will eventually total a million square feet of retail space, Primm said. Work on the first phase, totaling 500,000 square feet, will begin in March and be completed a year later.
Anchor tenants will include some of the biggest names in retailing, Primm said, and will draw customers from Las Vegas -- a major departure from Primadonna's traditional customer base.
"We expect it will probably add 2 million to 3 million visitors to our annual volume when it opens in March 1998," he said.
Construction already has begun on a second Tom Fazio-designed golf course, which will complement the $27 million Primm Valley course set to open Feb. 7. Professional golfers who've had a sneak preview of Primm Valley said it will be one of the best in the West.
"We moved 2.5 million cubic feet of dirt to build Primm Valley," Primm said. "When you play it, you're in a different world."
The retail center, golf courses and other amenities being added to the three neighboring casinos are designed to transform Primm into a destination resort "where people will want to come and stay and go no further," Primm said.
"We have to turn people away on weekends, but we want to establish Primm as a midweek getaway for Las Vegans."
One new attraction is called the "Turbo Drop," a 200-foot-high ride built by the designers of Stratosphere Corp.'s Big Shot thrill ride.
"It's similar to the Stratosphere's ride, only it takes you up 200 feet and shoots you down, so you experience negative G's," he said.
"I'm a roller-coaster guy. I believe if people see the Desperado, see the Turbo Drop, it'll make them want to get off the freeway. And if we get them to come visit, we'll get them back."
Exactly one month after Tuesday's ceremonies at the California-Nevada border, Primm will experience another emotional day. Jan. 3 is the official opening date for New York-New York, the Strip's newest resort and a joint venture of Primadonna Resorts and MGM Grand Inc.
"This is really an extraordinary month for me," Primm said. "Today was a wonderful day. New York-New York will be the icing on the cake."