Monday, July 7, 2008 | 2 a.m.
Although mayors across the country for months have been paying lip service to concerns about the fast-rising cost of gas and its effect on their constituents, most are not really all that concerned, Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman said at his July 3 news conference.
The reason: an increasing reliance on mass transit.
Goodman, who said he heard this at the annual U.S. Conference of Mayors meeting held in Miami last month, noted that indeed, bus ridership was up in Las Vegas, too, which he termed “a residual good.”
But Vegas is being hurt by high gas prices much more than other cities because the cost is decreasing tourism, he said.
Specifically, in the first four months of 2008, compared with that period last year, there’s been a drop in the number of visitors driving in from Southern California. Southern Californians typically make up between one-quarter and one-third of the region’s visitors.
Statistics from the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority show that while the overall number of visitors to the region was off almost imperceptibly in the first four months of the year, the number of vehicles coming from SoCal dropped by 5 percent from a year earlier.
According to LVCVA Research Director Kevin Bagger, the daily average number of vehicles coming from California to Nevada along Interstate-15 dropped from about 37,500 to 35,700. Those vehicles carried residents, visitors and commercial goods, he said.
Just as significantly, Bagger said, gaming revenue was down during that period, by 3.7 percent.
“This just emphasized for me how different Las Vegas is,” Goodman said.
Las Vegas officials say they are investigating the safety of the Stratosphere’s north parking garage, the site of a June 26 accident in which a Chrysler PT Cruiser smashed through a concrete barrier on the second level and fell to the ground.
Amazingly, all four teenage occupants suffered only minor injuries, according to Metro Police.
But the accident called into question, again, just how safe casino parking garages are in Las Vegas, and whether the city’s safety codes are up to par.
Cars slammed through concrete panels in the parking garage of the Golden Nugget downtown twice in 2004.
In one incident, in January of that year, an 83-year-old man drove his car off the fourth floor of the garage. He and his wife were killed.
Nine months later, two 83-year-old tourists suffered serious injuries when the driver drove through a barrier on the garage’s second floor. Both incidents were labeled accidents.
A new building code written in 1994 mandated that standard 6-inch concrete panels be able to withstand 6,000 pounds of pressure. But the code did not mandate that older garages had to meet the new standards.
Garages built from 1982 to 1994 fall under a more lenient code that requires only that garages have “adequate” curbs and railings.
According to Stratosphere spokesman Michael Gilmartin, the hotel’s north parking garage was built in 1987.
Gilmartin added that the new owner of the Stratosphere, Whitehall Street Funds, conducted structural assessments of all its properties this year, including that parking garage.
David Riggleman, the city’s spokesman, said Building and Safety Department officials were looking into any possible abnormalities in the Stratosphere garage’s structural plans. They may also visit the broader issue, he said.
“This has happened three times in the last several years,” he said, “so maybe this is something that should be looked into.”
On Thursday a Metro spokesman said police were still investigating the incident at the Stratosphere and charges might yet be filed. The 16-year-old driver had only a learner’s permit, which means a licensed driver 21 or older should have been in the car.