Shooting park manager decides to move on

The man who designed a 2,900-acre shooting park and guided the decade-long project through legal turmoil and neighborhood opposition with the aim of making it the biggest in the country is resigning as the park’s manager.

Don Turner, 63, sent a letter to Clark County leaders stating he will quit Sept. 17, having fulfilled his promise to create a public shooting park in the county.

Turner insisted during a phone interview that his decision to quit had nothing to do with criticism about the park’s $61 million first phase failing to turn a profit since opening full-time in April.

He said after wrestling with one challenge after another for 10 years, he was ready for less demanding work, perhaps as a consultant.

“The other stuff going on is a lot of background noise to me.” Turner said, while waiting for a flight to Washington, D.C., where he planned to discuss the shooting park with the National Rifle Association. “I don’t feel I have to defend what I’ve done.”

He then went on to defend the park he helped create near Sheep Mountain in the northern valley. But then, Turner has often played the role of defender.

A group of angry residents opposed the park, saying they were never told they’d be subjected to constant gunfire when they bought their homes. They sued the county and sought an injunction but lost in court.

Commissioner Steve Sisolak fired a more recent volley. He calls the park a money-loser and contends the county should not subsidize it in tough economic times. The park has pulled in about $430,000 but has racked up $1.3 million in operating costs, he said.

Sisolak said he wishes Turner well in his future endeavors but thinks a change in management might be good. The county can bring in someone with a strong marketing background who can offer new ideas to boost profits, he said. 

“We can’t afford to put this much money into this,” Sisolak said.

But Turner said the first year of any venture is the most expensive. You have to train staff and buy inventory such as ammunition and clay birds for the skeet-and-trap range, he said.

The park also opened full-time just before the hot summer season, when outdoor recreation in Las Vegas drops off, Turner said. As the weather cools off, the park should draw more visitors, he said.

Commissioner Tom Collins said he was disappointed to hear Turner was quitting. Turner is a well-respected sport-shooting expert, yet he often ran into bureaucratic walls within the parks department when he wanted to try new things.

“They tied his hands too many times,” Collins said. “We’re losing a tremendous asset.”

Turner said the park needs larger corporate and competitive events to become truly profitable.

The park has widespread support among politicians, who have often used it as a backdrop for events. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., led the effort to fund the park and get approval from the Bureau of Land Management for the site, according to his campaign. Gov. Jim Gibbons, a Republican and former congressman, got the bill with the money through the House. All four members of Nevada’s congressional delegation at the time co-sponsored various pieces of legislation for the park.

Commissioners this week approved trimming a dollar from the daily fee for nonprofit groups hosting at least nine events at the complex. Also, a case of clay birds will cost $22 instead of $30.

Officials estimate that the discounts will increase foot traffic enough at the park to generate an additional $155,000 in revenue. Turner said he wasn’t involved in crafting the plan and couldn’t speculate about whether it would work.

Sisolak said he thinks the user fees are already low and doesn’t see how shaving off a dollar will lure more clubs and groups. Still, he voted for the fee reduction and said he will give it six months to show results.

The park has relatively few firing ranges, which limits the types of events it can accommodate, Turner said.

Turner had planned to build a halfdozen more ranges for rifles, pistols and shotguns, but installing the park’s flood system cost $10 million instead of the $1 million that had been estimated. That left far less money for amenities, he said.

He also worked to get the legislation needed to allow the county to offer corporate naming rights for buildings, programs and activities at the park. That could put millions of dollars into the county’s coffers, Turner said. 

Sisolak, however, said whatever Turner has done so far doesn’t appear to be enough. Private shooting ranges are turning a profit, and yet the county’s shooting complex is a money drain, he said.

Turner countered that the private clubs charge $10 to $15 an hour, and some limit membership. The park’s purpose was to offer a lower-cost alternative to everyone, he said.

Labor costs have been curbed by using volunteers who do maintenance, cleanup and other work in return for free hookups for their recreational vehicles, Turner said. 

Turner said it was unrealistic to expect the park to immediately show a profit.

“In a business world standard, is three months a valid barometer for the success of a business?” he asked. “I gave them a good (business) model. Time will tell.”

 Contact Scott Wyland at swyland@reviewjournal.com or 702-455-4519.

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