2004 Making a Comeback
by Ev Chase
It seems things have been happening in ten year increments when it comes to upgrade activity at Hoover Dam - at least for the past 30 years.
The Hoover Dam Power Plant Act of 1984 brought about an upgrade of the working parts of the plant, bringing more power to users in Arizona, California, and Nevada.
In February of 1994, Julian Rhinehart, Regional Public Affairs Officer for the Bureau of Reclamation said, "No one envisioned there would be three quarters of a million paid tours each year."
An investment ten years ago in the neighborhood of $135 million brought about a parking garage, a new visitor center with access under the roadway, new expensive elevators carrying 50 people each down into the dam, and a very big mortgage.
That was then and now is a time in which expensive elevators are prohibited from taking paying customers on a full ride to the bottom of the dam.
It's 2004 and and no one envisioned we would still be feeling the aftermath of a catastrophe such as an attack on the twin towers of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.
The knowledge of that attack, however, doesn't dampen the spirits of Gary Bryant, Hoover Dam Manager. Bryant is well aware he has to deal with that extra element of security - terrorism. He realizes he has to make his historic attraction pay the bills.
"Tourism is slowly coming back," Bryant says. "Its come back ever year since 9-11, but we really had a diffucult time. Our activity went down to about 60% of normal."
Forty percent was a big cut considering operations and maintance costs, as well as capital investment, are covered by tourist dollars.
"Last year we were about 75 percent of our highest years,"which was just before 9-11," Bryant says. "It looks like we are going to come in this year about 85 to 89 percent of our highest level.
"We've had a tremendous amout of response in the last two or three weeks, probably because of spring vacation. We're surprised the people we've had."
Having "a tremendous response" is a two edged sword, however. Larger crowds and more vehicles drain the resources it takes to maintain security and provide a pleasent experience for visitors.
"Certainly there are more police, guards, and security," Bryant says. "But a lot of the guides and young people that are around are here to make sure we give our guests a good image of the federal government and of Hoover Dam in general.
"Over the last few years we've pushed to make sure that everybody who meets the public understands how important it is to make a good impression."
Bryant's goal for the Hoover Dam attraction is to make sure his people who meet the public are "ambassadors to the world," something akin to what he has seen on visits to Disney Land.
"When you go to Disney Land you never see armed guards, or any trash men, and you never find anyone who is not nice to you."
Bryant has several ideas on his screen for future consideration.
"We're looking at all sorts of alternatives," Bryant says. "The bridge gives us these alternatives. We'll no longer have to bring people across the dam.
"We have talked to Boulder City about activites down here. Sharing venues, for example. When it's cool, we could use the Arizona parking lot as an ampitheater, or for a classic car show. There are a lot of things that can be done once we are able to manipulate the traffic."
They're also making improvements and changes inside according to Bryant. They have gone through and repainted to look like it did "back in the old days."
"We are going through and cleaning it and getting it all fixed up. We've looked at providing a cable ride and taking people out half way and back, because you can't go down inside anymore because of security reasons."
Bryant is always aware that their primary purpose in life is to make sure there is enough water available down stream, control floods, and provide a reservoir for the water. A by- product of all that water is the beauty of the lake, availablility of water sports, and of course the grandeur of the dam structure.