The controversy that erupted prior to this year’s version of the classic cars and rock ‘n’ roll event hasn’t cooled in the least, judging by the tenor of letters to the editor and gossip on the street. At the present time, the majority of local sentiment is on the side of mayors Bob Cashell of Reno and Geno Martini of Sparks and against HAN Executive Director Bruce Walter.
The entire matter got off to a bad start when word first broke that Walter had signed a long-term agreement with the city of Long Beach, Calif. More fuel was added to the fire when the Southern California reporter who broke the story also noted that the HAN event was leaving Reno and would relocate to Long Beach. Walter denied that statement but in rebuttal the reporter said he was sticking by his writing and that the quote was correct. The response from the city officials and local citizens was immediate and outraged. Many felt that Reno and Sparks had a proprietary right to HAN since it had been started here by a group of local volunteers and that the name was indigenous to the Truckee Meadows.
Realistically, the name had been trademarked by the HAN board several years back. To prove they could do with it what they wanted, the board endorsed a three-day HAN celebration in South Shore Lake Tahoe this year prior to the local event.
Whether or not the Tahoe celebration helped or hurt Reno and Sparks is a moot point so far. HAN reported that only about 650 vehicles were registered at South Lake Tahoe, which is about 10 percent of the reported 6,000 entries for Reno and Sparks. Some local hotels said they filled up rooms a few days earlier this year than last but others said the room count was down. Perhaps the room tax figures for August will settle this point.
The most interesting set of figures so far, were published in the Reno Gazette-Journal on Sunday. They stated that the revenue less expenses for HAN in the amount of $458,000 in 2006 had dropped to a negative $55,556 in 2008. At the same time, salaries of $497,000 that were paid in June 2006 had increased to $596,000 in 2008 — an increase of nearly $100,000.
One of Walter’s main reasons for moving the event to include Long Beach and South Shore in the future was because the cost of city services in Reno and Sparks had become “horrendous.” How that statement will affect the proposed negotiations locally remains to be seen.
When first conceived, HAN officials got into the entertainment business and booked the acts. That was certainly a cost mistake for Hot August Nights and it took some time to get the event back in the black. Today, the savvy major venues — the hotel/casinos and on Virginia Street and Victorian Avenue in Sparks — are venues where the gaming properties supply the entertainment and other amenities.
Over the past decade, HAN seems to have done handsomely since its ending balance of $2.76 million in 2006 has risen to $2.87 million in 2008, again according to figures released by the press.
Almost half of the total HAN salary figure goes to Walter, who is approaching $300,000 in total annual compensation.
During most of this year’s heated controversy, the members of the HAN board of directors were pretty much noncommittal and let Walter take the brunt of the heat.
One of the major benefactors of HAN is the Reno-Sparks Convention and Visitors Authority (RSCVA), since it gets increased room tax money from the event but has been a bit of a nonplayer. It did invite Walter to appear before its board shortly before this year’s show but he was too busy to attend. It has invited him to the next board meeting.
Once indication of the seriousness of the rift between locals and Walter’s HAN organization was some of the copy that appeared in the newspaper ads for the show this year. In one ad, the copy noted “despite the doom and gloom, etc.”
the Taba Turbine
News broke on Sunday that the wind element of the Taba Turbine that has lain in virtual obscurity — while still in plain sight behind the RSCVA’s Convention Center — for several years is being put out to bid for use at another location.
Having been in attendance at the 2002 RSCVA board meeting where the turbine was first unveiled, I recall the overwhelming applause the designer received, as well as a handsome check for his concept.
As part of the $105 million expansion and renovation of the center that year, the device was supposed to generate a laser from wind power that would in turn hit tuning forks inside the building to create some melodic sounds. What the designer failed to calculate was the severity of the wind, or “Washoe Zephyrs,” that would hit the west-facing turbine and so it was quickly put out of commission and relegated to its present spot at the back of the building.
The Reno Arts and Culture Commission has now taken on the task of finding a new home for the piece. Hopefully, the new location will not be west-facing.
Harry Spencer is a freelance writer in Reno. His column about the past and present of northern Nevada appears weekly in the Tribune.
Editor’s note: Opinions expressed in Harry Spencer’s column are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Tribune.