“We want to see this event not only survive but thrive in the years to come,” said Beth Cooney, RSCVA board member and marketing director at John Ascuaga’s Nugget, at the board’s Thursday meeting. “It’s gonna take some work to make that happen.”
Northern Nevada was rattled in early July when the Los Angeles Business Journal reported that Hot August Nights would leave Reno permanently for Long Beach, Calif., in 2012. Hot August Nights executive director Bruce Walter said the classic car show will simply be adding a venue in Long Beach and will still host an event in northern Nevada. The Reno City Council has asked for that assurance in writing.
However, the thought of losing more than 6,000 classic car enthusiasts and their $350 million economic impact rattled local leaders and ignited a firestorm of coverage from local media.
As a result, RSCVA board members want to talk with HAN representatives. On Thursday, board members asked staff to see if HAN officials were available for the RSCVA’s Aug. 26 meeting.
“The RSCVA can then encourage them to stay and share that we don’t want them to go,” said RSCVA board member and Washoe County Commissioner Bonnie Weber. “I think we owe it to the public to have it be a public meeting.”
Board members also directed RSCVA staff to pursue more aggressive marketing to let people outside the Reno/Sparks area know the event is still happening. Cooney said that many customers have called John Ascuaga’s Nugget hotel/casino to cancel their reservations. The callers think that the event has been canceled.
Cooney later told the Tribune that the Nugget’s 1,550 hotel rooms, while normally booked solid for the HAN weekend, were not yet full this year. The room count was taken on Thursday.
Glenn Carano, a board member and the director of marketing at the Silver Legacy Hotel and Casino, told a similar story.
“We are not sold out yet,” he said. “Usually by this time of year, we are sold out.”
Cooney attributed some of the room reservation lag to poor economic conditions, adding that as the economy has worsened, room nights have not filled up as fast overall for the Nugget.
The RSCVA board was unanimously concerned about the effect HAN’s expansion to Long Beach would have on the local tourism economy.
“At one time, (the Sparks City Council) gave them a cash donation from tourism money,” said board member and Sparks City Council member Phil Salerno. “Now we give them added police and fire (protection) for the event. These (police and firefighters) are people who are usually off and they have to come back and we pay them overtime.
“I just don’t think it’s right,” he added.
Others were upset as well.
“I am just floored at how a nonprofit can take funds garnered from an event in our community and fund an event that could kill ours,” Carano said. “That just doesn’t feel good to me.”
The RSCVA previously gave Hot August Nights cash donations and grants, according to RSCVA special events manager Rebecca Venis. She added that this year’s in-kind donations to HAN consist of reduced rates for RSCVA facilities to the tune of $140,000.
“Obviously this is a huge issue,” said board member Tim Tretton. “If we have the option of losing Hot August Nights … obviously there is something that he (Walter) is not happy with here. What can we do to help? In these economic conditions that we are in, I don’t think any of us want to lose this.”
Other board members agreed that something needed to be done to better understand how to keep HAN around.
“We need to understand what the (HAN’s) business decision is here,” said board member Paul Curtis. “We see increasing cities competing with us and we will continue to see that with special events.
“We, as a community, we need to compete effectively,” he continued. “We need to understand the decision to move to Long Beach and we need to understand it in the context of how we treat other events in the area.”