Tonopah: A Bidding History

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By Lisa Hayes, “Bid Instigator”

Ten years ago [2008], while driving through central Nevada, my truck broke down near Tonopah, Nevada. I limped into town and decided to stay at the Tonopah Station Hotel. The following day, I put my truck into the shop, and due to bad (or maybe it was good) luck, they weren’t able to work on it for two more days. What to do with my time? Having attended SF conventions for decades and having volunteered on many conventions, it struck me that so much of what I was seeing in this hotel was making me think it was a possible convention venue. (Kevin says this is known as “Conrunner Syndrome.”) So I spent my day wandering the hotel, the town of Tonopah, taking notes, and becoming more and more amazed. To my good fortune, the Tonopah Convention Center was open, and the people there allowed me to look around as much as I wished. I found out that their rental prices and flexibility were astounding. Putting my notes aside, I collected my repaired truck and headed home.

TonopahStation (1)
Tonopah Station Hotel on a subsequent trip. Incidentally, the vehicles repair cost only $15.

The idea of a Tonopah convention kept going through my mind. Having talked to many conrunners, I was told, “If you want to know, you have to try.” So in 2010, late in the cycle for the selection of Westercon 65, Kuma Bear and I, with the help of my husband, Kevin Standlee, started a pocket-sized “exploratory” bid for a Westercon in Tonopah. The committee understood the challenges of Tonopah’s location: i.e. the only practical way to get there was to drive. This may have been my own blind spot, because I have driven to all but one of the many Westercons I’ve attended. At no time was this a “hoax bid.” We were ineligible for the ballot for technical reasons, so I figured that if by whatever chance we did happen to win, it would be with so much support and enthusiasm that it would not be difficult to run it.

Kuma Bear bidding for Tonopah at the 2010 Norwescon in SeaTac WA.

Trying to shake the stigma of being called a “hoax bid” was the most onerous part of bidding. While Kuma Bear made a wonderful bid chair, clearly he didn’t have what it takes to chair a Westercon. As a matter of fact, neither did I. That is why, for the 2012 bid, Kevin Standlee (rather reluctantly) agreed to chair the convention on the outside chance that we were selected. Despite being technically ineligible and thus not on the ballot, we received about one-third of the votes in the election held at the 2010 Westercon in Pasadena.

Tonopah in 2012 bid table at 2010 Westercon in Pasadena, with Kuma Bear in charge and Kevin following orders. Tonopah is not a hoax; it’s a bright idea!

I want it to be known that what everyone knew about Tonopah at that time (even Kevin) was through me and the documentation I had collected. Finally, the chance came for me to show Kevin what I had seen about Tonopah that made me think that this was a really nice and plausible site for a Westercon. Kevin was impressed and surprised at what he saw. While the facilities weren’t huge, they were amazingly affordable, and the conditions of use were the stuff of most conrunners’ dreams. Between the small convention center and the half-dozen hotels along the town’s main street, this seemed to be not a joke, but an actual possibility for a convention of not more than about five hundred people.

Diamond Jim Suite
Our suite at the Tonopah Station when we stayed during our wedding anniversary in October 2018. It’s a pity this hotel isn’t a little closer to downtown. It has some very nice rooms at affordable prices.

Since then, many people have approached me, Kevin, and yes, even Kuma Bear, and asked if we were going to run another bid for Tonopah. When, in early 2019, we saw that nobody had filed a bid, and that were eligible to be on the ballot this time, we contacted SFSFC, on whose board Kevin sits, and put a proposal before them. Some directors assumed that we were once again doing some sort of hoax, but when they saw the amount of detail we had compiled on Tonopah and how we had a serious answer for every question asked of us, we received the significant and unanimous support we needed. SFSFC “adopted” us as a corporate committee.

Kuma at the Mizpah
On a previous visit in October 2018, the Mizpah sales manager gave Kuma Bear the hotel’s sales portfolio.

Kevin, Kuma and I have visited Tonopah repeatedly over the past ten years, sometimes for a single night passing through, and sometimes for multiple days. After SFSFC’s endorsement, we went to Tonopah and met with the Mizpah Hotel and Tonopah Convention Center representatives to not only inspect the site and confirm that it was as good as we thought, but to sell ourselves to them. They said they thought we would be an interesting and fun group with which to work. We reached an agreement to proceed, and we filed a bid with Westercon 72 in Utah.

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Mizpah King
Our room in the Mizpah when we went to Tonopah to discuss booking the facilities with the hotel and convention center representatives.

During our many stays in Tonopah, we collected information, took notes, and shot photos and video, which we have shared to try and show the rest of fandom our vision of what a Westercon in Tonopah would be. If you haven’t done so yet, please look at the two videos we have posted of the convention center and the walk around downtown. Read what we’ve written about Tonopah’s facilities and the town and the surrounding area. I hope you’ll find that Tonopah is very special, and I hope that you will vote to give us a chance to show you just how special it is.

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