Reno’s iconic arch is poised to get a makeover.
The Reno-Sparks Convention and Visitors Authority board of directors voted unanimously on Thursday to approve $87,500 in funding to restore and upgrade the downtown landmark.
But that's only half the story
The money from the RSCVA was the final piece required to move the project forward after the City of Reno previously approved to fund the landmark’s upgrade as well. The RSCVA funding represents half of the total cost for the project, with the City of Reno pitching in the remaining amount. The city will now look at bids for refurbishing the arch, with work hopefully starting at the beginning of 2017, said Reno Mayor Hillary Schieve.
Supporters of the upgrade said the arch was synonymous with Reno among visitors. The Reno Arch is the most photographed and shared symbol of the city on social media, said Jennifer Cunningham, RSCVA interim managing director.
“The Reno Arch speaks volumes about how people perceive our city,” said Mayor Schieve, who is on the RSCVA board. “We want to keep it looking good.”
Since being built in the late 1980s, the Reno Arch has not seen any major upgrades, said Bill Thomas, assistant city manager for the City of Reno. Efforts to clean up graffiti and other damage on the arch have also made parts of the exterior look worn out and unappealing.
“We’ve done minor repairs, many of them related to the lighting when the bulbs go out or electrical problems,” Thomas said. “The material used (on the exterior) is also prone to discoloration and damage.”
A big part of the planned arch project involves upgrading to newer LED lights that can change color. The City of Reno gets a lot of requests to change the lighting for special events like Saint Patrick’s Day or initiatives such as breast cancer awareness. Given the older technology of the arch, such changes currently entail swapping out all the bulbs, which is labor intensive and expensive. Buying enough lights to change the color of the arch costs about $8,000, and that’s for just one set of colors, according to Thomas.
“If you look at it now, there are many bulbs that are burned out,” Schieve said. “People think the technology in the arch is extremely advanced but it’s super antiquated.”
The city also wants to change the exterior by using materials that are more resistant to damage from graffiti and the elements. Such changes, combined with the more efficient and versatile LED lights, should make maintenance easier while cutting costs in the long run. Schieve also stressed that the upgrades will be “more of a refresh” and that there will be no major changes to the look of the Reno Arch.
Concerns of a trend
Despite the unanimous vote by the RSCVA board, questions were raised about whether it was appropriate for the organization to fund such projects. Board member John Farahi, CEO of Atlantis parent company Monarch Casino & Resort, Inc., expressed concern about whether funding the arch would start a trend where entities representing Sparks or Washoe County start going to the board for funding various projects.
“I agree that the arch is important but I question if this is the agency’s responsibility or if we’ll need to start doing this with different facilities and structures,” Farahi said. “I want to know how we can keep this within limits so it does not get out of hand in the future.”
Board members Nat Carasali of the Peppermill and Glenn Carano of the Eldorado said they understood Farahi’s concerns. The Reno Arch, however, is a big part of the area’s tourism, making it an appropriate issue for the RSCVA to tackle, both said. Marketing should be able to make up the investment in the arch tenfold or even a hundredfold, Carano said. The potential buzz and social media opportunities just from being able to change lighting colors during special occasions would be big, he added.
RSCVA Board Chairman Bob Lucey agreed.
“We spend more than ($87,500) on some of our legacy events for a week of marketing,” Lucey said. “This is for 20 years of marketing.”