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WENDOVER: WHERE BOOM MEETS BUST

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Ten years ago, the only visible distinction between Wendover, Nev., and Wendover, Utah, was a white line painted across Wendover Boulevard at the state line.

Casino gambling was the bread and butter of the Nevada side of town, while Utahns provided support businesses like service stations, lodging and grocery stores. It was a classic symbiotic relationship: Gaming in Nevada was the big attraction, but visitors spent money on both sides of town.That's why Mike Pantelakis bought the Heritage Motel on the Utah side of town three years ago. He knew going in he would never realize the same profits as the Nevada hotels, he said. Yet he rationalized that the overflow business would provide a good income.And it would have if the Nevada casinos had remained static. But they didn't. The major hotels were upgraded and expanded, and hotel rooms on the Nevada side now total 1,000.

"I see them doing millions and millions of construction and renovation on the Nevada side, and it's all with Utah money. I watch the Utah side and it's like drops of water into the ocean," he said.

Except for the weekend of the annual Wendover Air Races and Air Show, Pantelakis said, he is fortunate if his hotel operates at 25 percent capacity.

"I'm not going broke. I pay my bills. I'm making a living. I would really like to make a profit," Pantelakis said in a recent interview.

As Wendover, Nev., has flourished, Wendover, Utah, has floundered. In an area that attracts swarms of tourists hoping to strike it rich and live a life of luxury, residents of Wendover, Utah, worry about their town's survival.

The two towns share some services, including schools and the fire department, but some locals say the communities are not as unified as they once were.

Nevada residents pay neither income tax nor food tax. Nevada does not require automobile inspections, and Utah residents say low-income housing is readily available on the Nevada side of town, but Utah residents are left wanting for home loans.

A once-cohesive community has been divided into "us" and "them " - the "haves" and the "have nots."

From Pantelakis' perspective, casino gambling would go a long way toward improving economic conditions on the Utah side of town. "The thing I keep coming back to is the logic of the gaming thing," he said.

But Utah legislators disagree. Proposals to legalize casino gambling in Utah have died quick deaths. And Wendover, Utah, Mayor Albert "Ab" Smith says casino gambling would not be the quick fix many Utah business owners believe.

Wendover residents acknowledge that the Utah Legislature will never legalize gaming on the Utah side. And the likelihood that Congress would move the Utah-Nevada state line to accommodate the border town's special needs is small.

Residents are seeking other answers. Said Lorraine Merl, a Utahn and executive director of Wendover USA, the community's visitor and convention bureau, "I'm not so sure gaming would be the answer or not. Basically, tourism is the answer."

The community's longstanding claim to fame has been Wendover Air Base, where the crew of the Enola Gay practiced the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. A monument about the historic war missions will be unveiled Aug. 25, on the Nevada side of town.

Locals say state legislators turned a deaf ear to requests for funding to place the monument in Utah's Wendover. Longtime legislators, some of them members of the Appropriations Committee, say they never were approached for funding.

Although rich in history, Wendover, Utah, is cash poor. Developing tourist attractions takes money, money the community needs for more pressing matters like improvements to its water system, storm sewers and roads. The town did not have its own cemetery until this year.

Wendover residents want industry, but they are selective. Voters overwhelmingly rejected a proposal to locate a hazardous-waste incinerator in their community.

Residents make up for what they lack in finances with abundant vision. The airstrip at Wendover Air Base, touted in a community visitors' guide as "one of the West's largest runways," could serve commercial airlines that want to operate air service to Nevada casinos.

The airstrip also is a victim of disrepair, and a recent federal study showed the airstrip would require $2 million in improvements before it could handle commercial development.

Unlike most communities its size, the town is located on a major interstate and has rail and air capabilities. Residents have toyed with the idea of establishing a facility similar to Clearfield's Freeport Center. But locals wonder what companies would utilize an exchange center in the middle of the desert.

"We're 100 miles from nowhere. We have problems," Pantelakis said, shaking his head.

The most recent business to locate in Wendover, Utah, was a nude dancing studio. The business wanted to locate on the Nevada side of town, but zoning ordinances prohibited the operation of such a business. So the owners set up shop on the Utah side because the city has no restrictive ordinances.

Although the city attorney now has written an ordinance to protect the town from such enterprises in the future, the existing business will be allowed to continue operating because of First Amendment protections.

State leaders say Wendover suffers most from a lack of leadership. Ed Meyer, director of the rural development office of the Department of Community and Economic Development, said state programs are in place to help small communities, but small towns need to reach out for help.

"If they approach the thing positively and do a bit themselves, people are responsive," Meyer said.

Members of the Utah Legislature's Economic Development Interim Committee recently toured Wendover at the suggestion of three residents who appeared before the committee in May. The committee also conducted a public hearing that focused on Wendover's economic status.

The legislators offered Wendover residents a listening ear and the latest copy of the Utah Business Resource Guide, a detailed list of government and private agencies that can assist in economic development.

But Rep. Kim Burningham, R-Bountiful, says Wendover's problems have no single cause and therefore have no single solution.

"I'm convinced you've got very unique problems," Burningham said during the public meeting. "I, for one, have been moved by the statement of your problems but I have to tell you I don't know what to do about them."