Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2000 | 11:17 a.m.
Paris, New York, Venice ...
When the receptionist at San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown's press office heard the news about not one, but three San Francisco-themed resorts proposed for the Las Vegas Strip, the telephone line fell quiet.
"I love Vegas," the woman finally said, giggling in disbelief.
But the laughter turned to a groan when she was told one of the planned resorts will be named Frisco Bay.
Frisco Bay is one name being considered by resort designer Mark Advent, who created the popular New York-New York. Advent is planning his $1.3 billion resort between the Desert Inn and the Venetian hotel-casino.
San Francisco real estate investor Luke Brugnara is developing plans for a resort replicating his hometown at the site of the Silver City Casino.
And earlier this month, real estate magnate Phil Ruffin announced he too has plans for a San Francisco-themed resort. Ruffin intends to raze the New Frontier and replace it with City by the Bay.
Those who believe San Franciscans -- perceived to be snobbish by some -- might be disgusted by a replication will be surprised to learn San Francisco natives are hardly bothered by the proposals.
"Copying is the ultimate form of flattery; San Francisco should be all over the world," said Angela Alioto, a San Francisco attorney whose family plays a huge role in the city's heritage.
Longtime city folks, however, do have one request: If the resorts are going to be built, they had better be done right.
Art Hoppe, a 40-year humor columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle, offered some suggestions for developers who plan to duplicate his beloved city. Topping the list was: scratch the idea of naming one Frisco Bay. Frisco is a nickname frowned on by natives of a city referred to in the local newspapers as The City.
"Holy Criminy," a disgusted Hoppe said after learning of Advent's plan. "Oh my gosh, people would hate that here. Nobody from San Francisco would be caught dead in Frisco Bay."
Hoppe warmed up to the idea of a theme resort when he learned of Ruffin's plan to call his City by the Bay.
Resorts proposed by Advent and Ruffin are expected to accommodate key landmarks like the San Francisco Bay, Alcatraz, Lombard Street, Coit Tower, Fisherman's Wharf and the Golden Gate Bridge.
Those are fine tourist attractions, Hoppe said, but how about representing the real San Francisco?
"They should probably have an earthquake every week," Hoppe said. "Shake up the guests a little.
"And don't forget the Critical Mass bicycle rides," he continued, referring to a monthly event in which hundreds of bicyclists ride along the city's thoroughfares to promote the use of bicycles rather than vehicles. Critical Mass bicyclists have been known to tie up traffic during rush hour, infuriating commuters.
"They should also have a lot of homeless, gays and protesters," Hoppe concluded.
At a time when air travel is affordable, more and more cities are competing for tourism. But San Francisco officials aren't overly concerned that Las Vegas will steal tourists by using their own city as a draw.
"Of course there can never be another place like San Francisco," Mayor Brown said. "If someone were trying to replicate San Francisco's many attractions and landmarks, they'd be hard-pressed to find enough space in the city of Las Vegas to house all the unparalleled beauty San Francisco has to offer."
The issue prompted Alioto -- a two-time mayorial candidate, former Board of Supervisor member and daughter of two-time Mayor Joseph Alioto -- to do something she rarely does: agree with Brown.
Alioto, whose family emigrated to San Francisco from Sicily, spends three months a year in Rome, but said her heart truly belongs to The City.
"There is only one San Francisco," she said sternly. "As gorgeous as Italy is, there is no city in the world like San Francisco.
"To in any way denigrate it, calling it something less than it is, calling it Frisco Bay; the whole scene is not a class act," she said.
George Cross, who has been a bell man for the St. Francis Hotel since 1946, has no problem with a hotel-casino imitating his city. Heck, even if one of the resorts is called Frisco, it wouldn't keep him away.
"Oh, I'd go to any casino," Cross said.
Cross, who has carried luggage for just about every Republican president since 1945, said putting San Francisco in Las Vegas could save visitors money. More important, it might keep the Los Angeles folks out of San Francisco.
"If they go to Vegas, they wouldn't have to come here," Cross said jokingly in reference to the ongoing rivalry between San Francisco and Los Angeles. "They could get a picture on a cable car and say they were in San Francisco."
Before any of the three San Francisco-themed casinos are built, a handful of lawsuits are bound to be filed. Each of the three developers have claimed their plans were swiped.
City by the Bay has already called upon the Alioto family once, to ask if it would be interested in opening its famous restaurant, Aliotos, at the hotel-casino.
Perhaps the resort developer truly dedicated to representing the real San Francisco will call upon one of the Aliotos' long line of prominent attorneys to battle for their right to open a casino.