By Kayla Anderson
The long-shuttered Bourbon Square Casino in the heart of Victorian Square will soon become an 8,500-seat amphitheater if everything goes as planned, offering yet another entertainment source in downtown Sparks.
Marnell Gaming, the owners of the Nugget Casino Resort, acquired the Bourbon Square property about a year ago when it sold two of its parking lots to Silverwing Development. Since the change of ownership, Marnell has been throwing ideas around on what to do with the old dilapidated building.
“We looked at doing a lot of different things with that space. It’s been abandoned for a while, and it would’ve taken a lot of structural work to make it habitable,” says Nugget Casino Resort general manager Mark Sterbens. Realizing that renovating the building to make it structurally sound would require a great amount of work and money, Marnell decided to demolish the facility that the old Silver Club used to be hosted in.
The Las Vegas-based hospitality company also owns a 5,000-seat amphitheater in Laughlin, which has done very well since its debut in 2013. Sterbens says that the amphitheater has been a significant economic generator for the community, also causing Marnell’s cash flow to increase 30-40 percent.
“We’ve always been leaning that way; we thought about building condos or a hotel, but our core business is in casinos and entertaining, so an amphitheater made the most sense,” Sterbens says of what their plan is for the leveled space in Victorian Square.
Early last December, Marnell executives brought up the idea of turning it into an amphitheater with the Sparks Planning Commission and asked for feedback. There were some concerns about safety, access and noise impact of a new event facility. Therefore, Marnell came back with a revised plan that showed a change in fencing, the proposed stage moved in a different location and other security measures.
A parking study done in late October showed how many parking spaces the new event center would need to accommodate at peak times; Marnell proved that more spots would be available during events like Hot August Nights and the Rib Cook-Off by requiring that Nugget employees park at an offsite lot in Reno and shuttling in, freeing up more parking. The parking study confirmed that the new amphitheater will make available up to three times the number of spots required by the Sparks Municipal Code during these peak times and they have already been successful at using the offsite lot for employee parking during past events.
The revised plan went back to the City of Sparks Planning Commission in late December, which was approved on the 20th and there is a two-week window for the community to comment on the project.
“It could be open by June 1 with our first concert being held June 15,” Sterbens said. Marnell wants to use it as much as they can during the upcoming peak summer season for concerts and major events, and then allow the city or other community members to submit proposals for what it could be used in the off-season (such as turning it into an ice skating rink) as long as all city ordinances are being adhered to.
When asked if they have an artist confirmed for the June 15 concert, Sterbens says that they are in communication with several musicians that they have relationships with through their Laughlin facility, but it will likely be a country or classic rock act.
“We’ve been talking to Toby Keith, Hank Williams Jr., Lady Antebellum, Lenny Kravitz, Nickelback, Jason Aldean, Luke Bryan…” Sterbens says. “It’ll be what is in line with our current programming (in the Nugget),” he adds, which is generally a 70/30 split of country and classic rock music that has worked well in the past for this area.
“We’re very thankful to the City of Sparks for working with us on this project. We turned in a complicated application and the staff was great to work with. We appreciated their time and support. We’re excited to bring this into the community and think it will be a great asset to the city,” Sterbens adds.