Thursday, November 16, 2017

Reno Air Races: We are not actively seeking a move to Las Vegas



The Reno Air Racing Association moved to ease concerns about its marquee event on Thursday, saying that it is not actively seeking to move the National Championship Air Races away from the Biggest Little City.

The concern arose from a statement sent to the Reno Gazette Journal by the organization on Wednesday that it was exploring other potential sites besides Reno for the event, including Las Vegas.

The statement indicated that it was looking at options due to concerns about potential development around Reno-Stead airport, which is where the Reno National Championship Air Races are held each year.

“We don’t want to leave at all,” said Tony Logoteta, chief operating officer of the Reno Air Racing Association, in a phone interview on Thursday afternoon. “The last thing we’re trying to do (with the statement) is to create additional concerns.”

The Reno Air Racing Association says it released the Wednesday statement after getting calls from concerned fans, sponsors and partners about a KRNV News 4 report from earlier this month that indicated it was exploring alternate sites for the Reno Air Races, including Las Vegas.

“We would be remiss as an organization if we didn’t explore long-term contingency plans for the potential impact the development of the Reno-Stead Airport could ultimately have on our event if their development plans come to fruition,” the Reno Air Racing Association said in the original statement sent to the RGJ. “One of those contingencies, unfortunately, has to be looking at alternative locations.”

The statement, however, ended up causing friction with the Reno-Tahoe Airport Authority, which says it felt blindsided by the release. The Reno-Tahoe Airport Authority, which oversees Reno-Stead Airport and the Reno-Tahoe International Airport, issues the airport license for the event and has been a longtime partner of the Reno Air Races.

The development cited by the Reno Air Races involve a 20-year master plan that the airport authority has been working on for many years. Priorities listed in the plan include improving infrastructure for ground transportation and parking, modernizing terminals and baggage handling, and airfield enhancements for runways and taxiways.

The greater Reno-Sparks area has been experiencing robust growth in the last few years with the arrival of high-profile companies such as Tesla, Apple and Switch. The growth has helped the region recover from the worst recession in its history but has also led to housing affordability issues with home values reaching record prices this year and Reno placing among the top areas in the nation for rising rents.

The growth is also putting pressure on the area’s infrastructure, which is one issue that the airport is attempting to address with its master plan. Improved infrastructure and development is especially important for Reno-Stead Airport, which still gets subsidized by Reno-Tahoe International Airport,  said Brian Kulpin, vice president of marketing and public affairs for the Reno-Tahoe Airport Authority. The Federal Aviation Administration prefers airports to be self-sufficient, Kulpin said.

In response to concerns by the Reno Air Racing Association about potential projects near the race site, the Reno-Tahoe Airport Authority told the Reno Gazette-Journal on Thursday morning that there are no immediate plans for development at Reno-Stead Airport. Although the authority has an agreement with developer Michael Dermody of Dermody Properties, any development that could impact the Reno Air Races has to come before the airport board for approval and will take at least two years to go through.

“There are no bulldozers, no surveyors, no ribbon cutting, no groundbreaking and no development plan that has been brought to the airport authority regarding Reno-Stead Airport,” Kulpin said. “We also have 5,000 acres at Reno-Stead so there’s a lot of room out there (to incorporate development as well as the air races).”

The Reno Air Racing Association has known about the airport’s master plan for seven years so the airport authority is surprised that the group is raising an issue about it now, Kulpin said. RARA worked with the RTAA on its 2010 master plan for Reno-Stead Airport, including the incorporation of its race courses with any future development in the area, according to Kulpin.

The Reno Air Racing Association confirmed that the airport has shared its plans with the organization which includes development that could run in conjunction with the annual aviation event. Although major development is not imminent, it still presents a concern, the association said.

“Depending on how quickly those plans come to fruition, they could potentially impact the ability of RARA to stage the National Championship Air Races in the future due to development that could encroach on our race courses,” the Reno Air Racing Association said.

Moving the event would represent a blow to a community that has hosted the races for 54 years, especially if it moves to rival city Las Vegas. Numbers from the Reno Air Racing Association estimate that last year’s event generated $91 million in economic impact for the region.

Next year’s race is scheduled to take place from Sept. 12 to 16 at Reno-Stead Airport. The airport authority, however, has yet to hear from the Reno Air Racing Association after it extended an offer to RARA for a two-year license last January, Kulpin said. The license covers the 2018 event and adds an extra year to give event organizers a one-year buffer. Usually, both organizations are deep into license negotiations by this point in time, according to Kulpin.

The mention of a potential move to Las Vegas was especially a sore spot for the Reno-Tahoe Airport Authority, which says it was caught by surprise by RARA’s comments to the press.

“The airport authority has had a 54-year partnership with RARA and we are shocked and dismayed that never once have they approached (the RTAA) to talk to us — not a phone call, not a text, not an e-mail,” Kulpin said. “Instead, we learned about their concerns through the media.”

The timing of RARA’s talk about moving to Las Vegas was also described by the airport authority as a curious coincidence. Kulpin pointed out that Reno Air Racing Association vice chairman Mary Beth Sewald was recently named president and CEO of the Las Vegas Metro Chamber of Commerce. The Glenn Group, which is the media firm that represents RARA, also has an office in Las Vegas and does not stand to lose from a potential move to Las Vegas, Kulpin said.

Meanwhile, the Reno Air Races has been facing challenges since the horrific crash that occurred during its 2011 event, according to Kulpin. The crash caused severe injuries to some attendees and was followed by a drop in attendance and loss of sponsors. Event organizers have spent the following years recovering from the 2011 crash.

“We as an airport were out there saving lives alongside them (after the crash) so we thought we had a stronger partnership than what we’re seeing today,” Kulpin said. “If they need to go to Las Vegas because they’re looking for more money, then be honest about that.

“Don’t make us the scapegoat.”

Valerie Glenn, principal of The Glenn Group, said her company’s satellite office in Las Vegas is a non-factor in the Reno Air Racing Association’s decision to explore other potential sites. The Glenn Group remains headquartered in Reno and continues to be a strong advocate for the region, Glenn said.

“The fact that we have an office in Las Vegas is a moot point,” Glenn said. “The National Championship Air Races has been a huge part of this community for 54 years … and as a Northern Nevadan, I’d hate to see it ever have to leave the area.”

Reno Air Racing Association COO Logoteta, meanwhile, says it was never the organization’s intent to make it sound like it was actively seeking to move the event. Logoteta says the organization is relieved to hear about the safeguards regarding any proposed development at the site and described the airport authority as a valued partner that it looks forward to continue working with.

Logoteta declined to say whether communication between both groups has been bad, but says both organizations definitely need to get together and work through the current issue.

“I can’t really speak to the past but we’re looking forward to sitting down and working with them in the future,” Logoteta said.

Despite its frustration with how things unfolded with RARA, Kulpin says the airport is always willing to talk with its partners as well.

“We don’t want to do anything to make the air races go away,” Kulpin said. “We will talk to anybody who comes to our door.”

Original article can be found here ➤ http://www.rgj.com

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