Tonopah, Nevada came to our attention when one of the members of our committee (Lisa Hayes, who we’ve come to call the “Bid Instigator”) spent several days there many years ago waiting for her vehicle to be repaired. While staying in Tonopah, she wandered the town, and as many conrunners do, visualized what it would take to put on a convention here. To her surprise, the facilities looked more and more promising the longer she looked. This led to an “exploratory” bid at the 2010 Westercon in Pasadena, where, running as an unfiled write-in bid against the unopposed bid for Seattle, Tonopah received one-third of the votes cast.
Since this initial exploration, numerous people have asked Lisa and her husband (and 2021 chair) Kevin Standlee whether they would bid again, and Kevin and Lisa have shared their multiple trips to Tonopah. The more they looked, the better Tonopah sounded. This led us to make a presentation to the board of directors of San Francisco Science Fiction Conventions, Inc., which has acted as the parent corporation for Worldcons, Westercons, World Fantasy Conventions, and other events (not always in the San Francisco Bay Area). SFSFC agreed to “adopt” the 2021 committee under their corporate umbrella.
Of course, Westercon has changed over the years, and the size of the many Westercons over the past twenty years appears to us to match up with the available facilities in Tonopah. Furthermore, similar to how the late Bobbie DuFault, chair of the Spokane Worldcon bid, showed that bringing Worldcon to a smaller city with appropriately-sized facilities could produce a great convention experience for the members, we came to believe that this small Nevada town could be a very attractive site for the right sized Westercon.
Ways That Tonopah’s Westercon Will be Different
- Less Expensive: A small town with inexpensive and flexible facilities, including a number of nearby hotels with substantially lower costs than most recent Westercons have had, free parking, RV parking, and a variety of restaurants at different prices and types within walking distance means that the cost of the convention will be lower. We expect our convention membership rates will be less than comparable recent Westercons.
- Flexible Facilities: Unlike most hotels and convention centers, the Tonopah Convention Center is offering us 24 hour access and complete control over our own facility set up. We can make changes on the fly at any time we want. If that means we want to rearrange the tables and chairs, we can do it ourselves anytime we like. Furthermore, if necessary we can open/close the air walls and re-partition the space at our own discretion.
- Kitchen & Bar Facility Included: The convention can, at its discretion, have any sort of food and beverage service we want to have. Besides our own extensive Hospitality functions, we plan to invite the various fan groups that typically would host “room parties” to instead take a section of our main hall and take advantage of the convention center kitchen’s food preparation facilities and the long bar running the length of the hall. We will not be charging the groups for this; they just have to bring their own food and drink, set up and serve it, and clean up after themselves, of course. There’s even an outdoor barbecue grill built into the convention center!
- Tourism Opportunities: While it is true that Tonopah is a “drive-there” convention, we believe this provides an opportunity to make the trip to the convention a special event for the members. We have appointed a Transportation Planner whose task will be to work with members flying to one of our “gateway” airports (Las Vegas and Reno) to coordinate travel plans such as carpooling/ride-sharing so that groups can go exploring to and from the convention. Moreover, Tonopah includes several interesting tourism opportunities withing walking distance, starting with the Tonopah Mining Park that dominates the town’s skyline.
- Taking Advantage of the Technology: The Tonopah Convention Center has been extensively remodeled, with free wi-fi added, and with projectors and screens built into each room. We are exploring the possibility of having panelists in our programming participate remotely, so that the program isn’t limited to just those panelists who can make the trip. We may be able to therefore have program participants from anywhere in the world.
- Guests of Honor/Program Participants: At this time, we do not anticipate having traditional Guests of Honor, although we are open to the possibility of inviting Special Guests through outside sponsorship should the opportunity to do so present itself. We want to focus all of our resources on making every member’s experience as positive as possible. Also, similar to the organizational model of most Worldcons, we plan on asking all members, including those participating in programming and attending the convention, to purchase memberships. This event is intended to be a gathering of equal members, and to be organized in a way as to make it as affordable as possible for all the members.
- Traditional Functions: We currently plan to have a small Dealers’ Room. We do not plan to charge dealers for table space (other than their convention membership), although that that does mean necessarily that the room will be juried. We are still considering whether or not to organize an Art Show. While the Tonopah Convention Center does have a fixed stage, we are not currently planning on a traditional Masquerade/Costume Contest; however, costumes are encouraged, and other costume-related functions are under consideration.
- Relaxed: We are currently planning a relatively light schedule of programming, giving our members an expanded opportunity to socialize and to explore the community. Rather than running the members off their feet rushing from item to item and constantly protesting that they seem to need to be in a dozen places at once, we want our members to enjoy themselves without running themselves ragged.