The Reno Aces and the City of Reno struggle for last run of the game

14 Dec

“There have been eight major accidents up by my house, on Scottsdale road,” said a passionate, long-time Reno resident to the members of the Reno City Council. “People just keep flying down the street because there are no speed bumps, and you’re going to spend general fund money on baseball? My street needs speed bumps!”

The members of the council and the Reno Redevelopment Agency listened as, one by one, the man was followed by an array of other Reno residents making similar requests. Some wanted the money to go toward education, some toward non-profit organizations, but most agreed putting it toward the Reno Aces was a mistake.

Since 2009 the Reno Aces, formally the Tucson Sidewinders, have been pulling residents back in to downtown Reno, which sometimes lacks the allure to draw a local crowd, according to Bill Thomas, assistant city manager.

“It’s a beautiful ballpark and I go downtown more because of those games,” said Cameron Vandenberg, a Reno resident and attorney. “Why the hell did they build (or allow to be built) the ballpark in the first place if they didn’t want to support the team?”

But financial support is different in this situation. According to the contract, the RDA committed to paying the Reno Aces $1 million a year and up to a max of $2.5 million, money that was assumed to be generated from the increase in property taxes paid as a result of bringing such an economic stimulator to the downtown area.

“But then the recession happened and property value went below its starting point,” Thomas said. “There was no money there to pay the millions of dollars the Redevelopment Agency promised them.”

And though the RDA and the City of Reno are separate legal entities, Thomas said the Aces (who refused to comment on the matter) feel a deal is a deal, even though general fund money was not part of the original agreement. However, the Aces have generated about $21 million annually in economic revenue, according to a report done by the University of Nevada, Reno.

“This was never intended to be a profit making venture for RDA or the City (of Reno),” Thomas said. “This economic activity is not necessarily a direct benefit to RDA but would benefit the community as a whole.”

The surrounding businesses have, indeed, benefited significantly from the Aces stadium over the last five years. Dave Silverman, owner of Slice of the Peak pizza, said he chose his location, directly adjacent to the stadium because he thought it would help him get a lot of business.

“I hope they’re able to work out a deal for everyone, but I know it is complex,” Silverman said. “If the Aces pack up and go, we’ll most likely pack up and go, too.”

Silverman said that during the off-season, his business goes down “probably 75 to 80 percent.” The Freight House District, connected directly to the stadium, sees about a 50 percent drop in business during the off-season, according to manager Barry Rockburn.

“It’s a long, busy grind during baseball season,” Rockburn said. “But we would lose about half of our business if they left.”

Another local business in the area, Lincoln Lounge, also benefits during baseball season, but manager Jesse Reeves said Lincoln Lounge would not go out of business.

“We would notice the change, especially in the summer,” Reeves said. “I don’t want to see them go, but I do think they’re asking for a lot. It seems like the city has already thrown them a few bones and now they’re asking for more.”

Reno resident and season ticket holder Victoria Crockett agreed that they’re asking too much, although she enjoys taking her family to the games.

“It seems as though the owners want to renegotiate the agreement which is unfair to the Reno citizens who have already contributed so much money for the team and stadium,” she said.

The Reno City Council has now been struggling, Thomas said, in efforts to rework the arrangement with SK Baseball LLC., the company that owns the Aces. If the arrangement can be reworked, the previous arrangement will be forgotten.

According to Thomas, not all of the money would be ‘new money.’ Some of the money they’re asking for would come from money that was already set aside from a loan that baseball gave the city to relocate the fire station that used to reside where the Aces now call home.

“There’s about $100,000 from property tax and $50,000 from the loan,” Thomas said. “The whole $1 million wouldn’t be all new money …we’d just be reprogramming it.”

But Thomas said one of the worries the council is facing is what would happen if somewhere down the line, that money is needed for core services and unable to be used due to the agreement made.

However, if the Aces leave on their own accord or from the lack of funding, there will be about 700 jobs lost seasonally from the stadium. The $21 million generated annually from baseball will be lost as well. And an empty stadium would prompt a loss on both sides, due to maintenance and the contract.

“The agreement we have right now says if they move within the first 15 years of being here, which we’re still in, they have to give us the stadium free and clear of debt,” Thomas said. “However, if we take it that way and resale it and lease it (to another team), that money has to go toward paying off the original debt.”

A deal has to be agreed upon by Jan. 31, according to Thomas, at which point we’ll know not only where the money will be coming from but for just how much longer.

“Everyone seems to be hurting right now, including (the) Aces,” said Jared Armstrong, a Reno resident. “It cost $58 million to build that place – are we going to give up on it and let it become another dead place (like the Virginian) or keep investing?”


UNR alumna tackles poverty

24 Oct

When 23-year-old Claudia Henao immigrated to the United States at the age of 16, it wasn’t by personal choice. Growing up in Cali, Colombia during some of the worst moments of the Colombian Armed Conflict inspired her mother to move her family out of harm’s way, to a place where she could spend her days without worrying about being kidnapped or killed.

“You grow up knowing that you might die any day,” Henao said. “You grow up knowing that your mom might not come home.”

Seven years later, Henao has made the personal choice to return and her childhood experiences have inspired the University of Nevada, Reno alumna to begin a non-profit organization called United Citizens of Colombia. With the launch of her Facebook page and website on Saturday, Henao said her mission is to provide assistance to the more than 5 million internally displaced people of Colombia, many of whom have been forced to leave their homes due to the internal war the country has faced since the mid-1960s.

“It is very common to walk on the streets of Bogotá, the capital, and see people lying on the streets because they have nowhere else to go,” she said. “You see children and newborns with their mothers on the street — I can’t just not pay attention to that.”

The violence that fills Colombia has decreased in recent years, Henao said, but it still has a strong presence in Colombian life. With such fertile soil, there is much agricultural gain to be had from Colombia and, according to Henao, many international organizations pay off the Colombian government to try to gain control of what would be a profitable agricultural pot.

Henao said the Colombian government is using the war to distract from the real issue — international organizations that are attempting to exploit the land for its natural resources.

“The Colombian government can’t just come out and say ‘Hey, everybody move out of here,’ so they use war as the tool to force the people out,” Henao said.

The idea for United Citizens of Colombia has been in the works for three years, Henao said, and with her sites going live recently, her goals are to raise $20,000 in her first year and serve 200 people a week in the most poverty-riddled parts of Bogotá.

According to Henao, one of the things that sets apart UCC from other non-profit organizations is that Henao will incorporate the people in the community by recruiting women in the same neighborhoods who can help to cook, rather than just providing them with assistance, she said.

“I feel that is the only way to make them feel like it’s something that belongs to the community,” she said. “I think you have to incorporate the community for it to be strong.”

Emma Sepúlveda, director of the Latino Research Center at UNR and native of South America, said it is an incredible privelege for Henao to be able to return to her country of origin to offer assistance to those in need.

“Latin countries really need more diversity of non-profit organizations,” Sepúlveda said. “If they worked together in teams, they could help more poor people, women and children.”

Sepúlveda said that her organization will simultaneously help the people of Colombia and the United States. By promoting a better standard of living, Latin Americans would not feel the need to immigrate north if they had the resources necessary to live quality lives in their countries of origin, such as food, water, good education and public schools, according to Sepúlveda.

Henao also feels that the hardships of Colombians, and Latin America in general, are felt in the United States through the increase in Latin American immigrants. The opportunity for a better life in America inspires Latin immigration, with 26.6 percent of the Nevada population alone being comprised of Latinos. Henao said if they had the means to live in their own country, they wouldn’t need to come here.

“When you think of the reasons why the U.S. gained independence from Great Britain, you think of the pursuit of happiness, religious persecution and economic reasons,” Henao said. “The pursuit of happiness hasn’t ended — it’s still happening in Latin America and is forcing people to move here, affecting the United States in political and economic ways.”

Austin Iveson, a 24-year-old art history major at UNR, said during his time spent in Colombia, he saw cases of extreme poverty and displacement and thinks the people of Colombia would respond to some sort of volunteer of philanthropy work such as Henao’s.

“I think her program, as I understand it, is a small step in the right direction,” Iveson said. “It could grow and make a serious impact on Colombia and raise awareness for their issues elsewhere.”

The growth of UCC is just what Henao hopes for, as she someday envisions it becoming United Citizens of Latin America.

“I feel that, as a citizen of the world, we have some kind of responsibility to help each other instead of being blind to what others need,” she said. “If you don’t understand what’s happening, then why would you care?”

UNR professor publishes book on Latinos and politics

18 Oct

On election night in 2008, Emma Sepúlveda, Spanish professor and director of the Latino Research Center at the University of Nevada, Reno, was stuck on an airplane to South America. As the stewardess received updates on the election results from the captain, the moment of Barack Obama’s victory had a profound effect on Sepúlveda as she watched a minority like her take a place of power. It also had a deep influence in the formation of her new book, “Converging Dreams: Why Latinos Support Obama.”

Published on Sept. 28, five weeks before Election Day, Sepúlveda’s new book elaborates her belief that not only is Obama the best candidate for the country, specifically Latinos, but the Latino voice in the United States is one that matters more than people think and should be respected.

“(Obama) is a regular person who wants to see a group of immigrants, who come from 21 different countries, united,” she said. “We want to be part of the political landscape in the United States.”

Sepúlveda’s motivation for writing this book began with a common ground — she feels that Obama’s story is very similar to the story of Latino immigrants like herself. Coming from countries like Chile and Argentina that have seen change in politics, for example, women presidents, Sepúlveda felt she could relate to the racial profiling and name calling she faced in her younger years in America, much like Obama.

“Latinos came to this country following a star,” she said. “Freedom, individual choices … there are so many reasons. Obama embraced that and is living proof of some of our dreams. I want my students to vote informed on who is the best candidate for them.”

In 2008, Obama did receive a large chunk of the Latino vote, with 67 percent going to the Democratic Party versus 32 percent to the Republican Party, according to the Center for Immigration Studies. Two years later, the 2010 census conducted by the U.S. government reported that out of the 308.7 million people living in the United States, 50.5 million of them were of Hispanic origin, increasing from 35.3 million in 2000.

“Our (Latino) population is growing by the minute,” said Antonio Rangel, a 19-year-old Latino university student who works for a non-partisan organization. “We Latinos need to have our voices heard in order for the government, or anyone else, to know that we are just as important.”

Rangel said that because more Latinos are becoming eligible to vote, it’s important to gain the same rights as everyone else. In developing her book, Sepúlveda tried to hear as many Latino voices as she could by interviewing Latino actors, politicians, musicians, teachers and numerous others about Obama’s promises that he made to the country and to Latinos. She said many Latinos were unhappy with him in 2008 and before.

“When he was a senator, he voted for the wall (between Mexico and the U.S.) and he put a lot of money toward the border,” Sepúlveda said.

Among health care unemployment benefits and Pell Grants, immigration reform was the one thing that Obama didn’t deliver on in his promises to Latinos, Sepúlveda said. She maintains that he was, and still is, more conservative in that view and actually supports the deportation of illegal immigrants caught engaging in criminal acts.

Emma Sepúlveda takes pictures in Chile while doing research on the mining cave-in of August 2010. She has written a book about the mining accident as well. File Photo/Nevada Sagebrush

“Some innocent people do get deported,” she said. “People who, yes, were undocumented, but hadn’t committed a crime … mothers get deported and kids get left behind.”

The issue of immigration causes Sepúlveda to believe the nation is becoming increasingly divided and needs to embrace the Latino presence in this country. Robb Weiderman, a 21-year-old employee at the Mitt Romney campaign, isn’t against the naturalization of immigrants who do it legally but feels that the federal government should pay attention to its natural born citizens first.

“Our resources are dwindling by the minute,” Weiderman said. “We can’t focus on just one group, we have to look at what’s good for the whole, for the future. That’s the bottom line.”

Sepúlveda said Latinos are part of the whole but they’re still different and their differences need to be respected. The dehumanization of the Latino population is something Sepúlveda fears is increasing more and more throughout the years as it becomes easier for people to apply for citizenship.

“People think we’re all undocumented and uneducated,” she said. “People don’t think I’m an accomplished writer with a Ph.D.”

Sepúlveda hopes that her new book will spread the uprising of the Latino voice not only through their own communities, but the general population. She feels that all citizens from different races and ages should read this book in order to understand how their country is changing.

“And if I was a politician and wanted to know how the Latino vote is being influenced, I would read this book,” she said.

Megan Ortiz can be reached at

Muse’s sixth LP “The 2nd Law” falls just short of an ‘A’ album

9 Oct

I’m a Muse fan almost the same way I am a Led Zeppelin fan. My erratic obsessions for the two differ mainly in my birth date, with it being physically impossible for me to tell you I have been worshipping Zeppelin since day one on the scene. But with Muse, it’s all there. Ever since their debut album “Showbiz” came on the radar in 1999, I knew then, as a measly 11-year-old, that I had found a love for life, listening to the title track progress in a swarm of intrigue and intimidation – two feelings truly good music should make you feel.

Muse is a band that never holds back. Their sixth LP, “The 2nd Law,” continues to intensify the organized chaos sound Muse has been trademarking for over a decade now. This is a band that recognizes, and pays tribute to, the “concept album” every time they step up to the plate. Concept albums tell a story all the way through. In other words, the songs aren’t meant to stand alone, but rather the album should be played all the way through, from beginning to end, allowing the pieces of each song to string the story together and bring it to life. Think of it as a musical novel.

There is no such thing as a typical Muse song. They are all over the place, which is one part of the band that makes them distinctly Muse. Most commonly, however, the three piece band is composed of heavy guitar, drawing inspiration from rock, blues and alternative music, with subtle, yet powerful, bass and unpredictable drum patterns. This classic form of Muse can be heard on tracks like the opener “Supremacy” and “Animals,” two songs that give major depth to the album, taking them from high to low and infusing them with just enough bass to complement lead singer Matt Bellamy’s astounding vocal range and 80s-esque guitar riffs.

This band is a fan of highs and lows throughout and always inserts little bits of in-between sweetness in their albums. This holds true with “The 2nd Law” as exemplified through songs such as “Madness,” “Explorers” or “Prelude,” a 58 second piano heavy interlude, reminiscent of classical pianists like Tchaikovsky. “Prelude” rides the coat-tails of the funky, bass infused, Red Hot Chili Peppers-esque song “Panic Station” and leads into “Survival,” which starts out small but builds to an operatic climax equipped with heavy handed, rock inspired guitar slides.

The most noticeable change on this album over previous Muse albums is their influence drawn from electronic music. This can be heard on tracks like “Follow Me” with a trance like feel and dubstep-ish drum beat at points. On the track “The 2nd Law: Unsustainable” the inspiration for the namesake of their album can be felt, as it draws on the 2nd law of thermodynamics and culminates a story of an unstable world with a frenzied news anchor reporting on chaos as rock infused techno takes over.

Overall, Muse’s sixth studio album was good – but it wasn’t great. It maintains the distinctively Muse, chaotic nature of the songs that still find some common ground enough to piece together the puzzle of the “musical novel,” but not in as bold a way as in the past. While there are many great tracks on “The 2nd Law,” it’s choppiness at parts and lack of a certain je ne sais quoi leave the listener feeling like they just want more Muse … both a good and bad thing.

Sweet 16: Behind UNR’s new president, Marc Johnson

4 Oct

It’s 9:17 a.m. on a still Friday in September before the inauguration.  The Lilli Glick reading room, located in Mackay Mines, is a throng of the president’s administration, regents, media personnel and close family and friends.  President Marc Johnson, 64, navigates the crowd, graciously granting any reporter an interview, any stranger an introduction and maintaining the patience necessary for photographers to get snapshots of candid moments.  He is the epitome of calm, cool and collected.  He exudes an air of modest confidence in his personality and a humble nature that will surely carry over into his presidency.

“I am humbled by this moment,” he said in his inaugural address.  “I am honored to have your trust and confidence.”

Dozens of empty chairs line the Quad at the University of Nevada, Reno, patiently waiting for friends, family, faculty and students, on the Friday of Johnson’s inauguration.

Johnson was officially inaugurated as the 16th president of the University of Nevada, Reno Friday, Sept. 28 at 10 a.m. on the Quad.  An event anticipated to attract a large and diverse crowd did not disappoint as David Zeh, chair of the University of Nevada, Reno Faculty Senate, conducted the day’s energy in a diverse and positive direction from the get-go, addressing the mixture of attendees that he said included adventurers, leaders and entrepreneurs.

“As I look into this audience, I see people representing all walks of life,” he said at the inauguration.  “I see…the University of Nevada, Reno – a living and vibrant community.”

It is that same living and vibrant spirit on the university’s campus that Johnson will strive to maintain as the mission of existing as the “people’s university,” as he so put it, continues to grow under his newly officiated position as president.

“It doesn’t matter, our economic condition,” Johnson said.  “We have a great responsibility to produce a top quality education for our undergraduate and graduate students.”

‘Responsibility’ is a word often associated with Johnson’s character.  A man who learned responsibility at an early age, Johnson grew up on a farm in an urban area near Wichita, Kansas. His family’s “pick your own fruit” orchard provided Johnson and his brother with ample opportunities for interaction with the public from a young age.

“We had a country store where we met the public on a daily basis,” he said.  “When I was in high school, my father took a farm real estate job and he traveled a bunch so my brother and I were pretty much left to manage the place.  I had some early experiences that a lot of people don’t get the opportunity to do and that really shaped my interest in managing organizations.”

Although he is an agricultural economist by training, this was not Johnson’s intended career path. Johnson originally thought he wanted to be a dentist.  He studied biology in the pre-dental program at what was formally Kansas State Teacher’s College, now Emporia State University. It wasn’t until his sophomore year that he determined he didn’t want to be inside all of the time, working in small cavities.  He became much more interested in public policy, human hunger and environmental issues on a world-wide scale.

He attended North Carolina State University after completing his bachelor’s in biology and it was there that he connected with a science in society program, a combination of theologians from NCSU, the University of North Carolina and Duke University that dealt with the theology and ethics of science.  This was the opportunity Johnson needed to make his transition from science to economic policy and after earning his first master’s degree from NCSU, he attended Michigan State University to work on further graduate studies.

Johnson said that he truly thought he would spend his life working on economic development projects in different countries but that the university life has provided him with his economic development fix as well as his teaching fix.

Johnson’s wife, Karen Penner-Johnson, 63, assists her husband in readying himself for the ceremonies as they share a laugh together.

“I never thought I would be the president of a university,” he said.  “I got to be a professor, though, and that was very rewarding.  I have always enjoyed teaching.”

His love of teaching not only lead him to work as an educator in five different universities throughout his career – Oklahoma State University, NCSU, Kansas State University, Colorado State University and, finally, UNR – but was reflective in his personal life, as well, according to Johnson’s son, Joe Johnson.

 “Dad taught me how to work and that important initiatives, as a father and as a professional, rarely conform to the 40-hour work week,” Joe Johnson said.

The 40-hour workweek is something that Marc Johnson rarely conforms to. An avid hiker and outdoorsman, he said he walks 2.5 miles every morning with his wife, Karen Penner-Johnson, 63, in order to “stay vibrant and get crisp air in our lungs.”  His days are filled with meetings concerning things like new student housing, moving to the Mountain West Conference in athletics, fundraising and community initiatives.  He does work with legislators and senators, travels within all 17 counties as the representative for UNR and welcomes groups from off campus who come to visit.  Living a life of such mixed days, he said it’s impossible to get bored and that he likes staying busy.

“Growing up on a family farm, we learned work ethic at a very young age,” he said.  “The nice thing about farming is there is no clock on the farm; there’s only the sun.  You’d work until the job gets done.  That’s the sort of work ethic that’s carried over into all my jobs.”

Even in the face of difficult economic adversity, that “until the job is done” work ethic is what got Marc Johnson through his time as not only university provost as well as his time served as interim president and, now, as president, it supports his visions for UNR’s future.

The hefty $75 million lost in UNR’s annual budget from cuts made between 2009-2012 made a significant impact on the university’s staff and programs.  With the passing of President Milton Glick last April in the midst of financial woe, Marc Johnson was forced to oversee the difficult decisions necessary to be made to university’s budget.  Dr. Jason Geddes, chairman of the Board of Regents for the Nevada System of Higher Education, said that Johnson handled the difficult curricular review process with thoughtfulness and careful deliberation.

“He showed concern for what the budget (reductions) would do to the students, faculty and staff and worked to ensure that cuts wouldn’t hurt all programs…but enacted a few deep cuts,” Geddes said.

Marc Johnson has been through the toughest of times at UNR and his training and knowledge of world-wide economics development and environmental issues assists him in drawing insight from world-wide problems. He said it is crucial that, now, more than ever, we put a high value on an education in a volatile and uncertain world.

From left to right, President Emeritus Joe Crowley, President March Johnson, President Emeritus John Lilley and chancellor of the Nevada Board of Regents Dan Klaich laugh together in front of the Mackay Mines building on the south end of the Quad before their participation in Johnson’s inauguration.

“This is a time when men need to think accurately and discern clearly the difference between the false and the true, between right and wrong, between iniquity and justice,” he said in his inaugural address.

Marc Johnson acknowledges that educating the masses has not gotten any easier and drawing on a memory of his time spent in Pakistan some years ago where he witnessed, first hand, the disparity between the classes, he believes that “education was the answer then and it’s the answer now.” 

This idea of education providing people with the strength to pull themselves out of, or through, struggle is a central focus on Marc Johnson’s vision for the university, as Nevada is both a Land-Grant university, a product of the Morrill Act of 1862, providing an “access for all…knowledge belongs to everyone” college, and a state-wide liberal arts and sciences university, he said.

Regardless of the fact that Marc Johnson has his roots in the sciences, he does not turn a blind eye to the liberal arts, nor does he renounce a love for it.  Joe Johnson describes his father’s nature as pragmatic but said that his father’s support of his fiscally less-than-safe profession has never faltered.

“His unwavering support of my career path speaks to his omnivorous nature of his passions, including art and music, in addition to a life devoted to public education,” Joe Johnson said. 

Johnson’s son, Joe Johnson, as seen with the rest of the Johnson family. Much of Marc Johnson’s family traveled from the Midwest to celebrate his transfer from interim president to official president at the University of Nevada, Reno.

 Marc Johnson’s description of himself as “not very flashy” mirrors that of many others’ opinions of him; however, this does not suggest that he is not a people person and his interest in community in outreach and it’s momentum in his career at UNR is one he hopes to continue steadily on.

“I speak often of how we are becoming a ‘Community-based University’ and why it is important that we must also become a ‘University-based Community,’” Johnson said in his inaugural address.  “Without one, the other cannot succeed.”

President Emeritus of the University of Nevada, Reno, Joe Crowley, said that Marc Johnson is an out and about, “say hello” kind of guy.  His considerable experience in university systems combined with his ability and interest in talking with people are qualities that Crowley believes will only continue to benefit Marc Johnson in his presidency.  Having traveled with Johnson to many a Nevada athletic game, Crowley said that it’s not uncommon to see Marc Johnson descend to the field afterward, shaking the hands of coaches, players and cheerleaders.

“It might sound routine, but it’s a great strength,” Crowley said.  “Not every person is willing to spend that kind of time with everyone.”

Marc Johnson said he is often involved in students.  He enjoys going out to the Union for lunch when he is on campus and enjoys approaching students and staff and says that students “best beware” if he sees you because he will try to engage you in some kind of conversation.

Huili Weinstock, ASUN president, said that one of his favorite things about Marc Johnson is that he really strives to break the context of power between himself, as a university leader, and the students.

“Often times, students feel like the president is untouchable, unreachable,” Weinstock said.  “It’s not like that with President Johnson.  Whenever you feel you need to talk to him, you can get ahold of him.”

Marc Johnson poses with visitors from the Northern Nevada International Center. “I’m so glad you could make it today,” he says to them. Visitors traveled from countries such as India, Kazakhstan, Argentina, Poland, Jordan, Nicaragua and Bangladesh.

And that was apparent during the entire process of his inauguration, with no person being of too little importance for even a second of his time, down to engaging in intimate moments with his grandchildren, to posing with a group of international visitors from the Northern Nevada International Society. 

“I like it when someone waves and says ‘hello, President Johnson,’” he said.  “People feel, in a sense, that this is a very friendly environment, like home.”

President Johnson’s title is official now and his fondness for interacting with the public will continue to add to the stated missions and goals he has outlined for the years to come at Nevada.  He hopes to maintain the mission of Nevada as a land grant university and also increase research done on campus by making a more definitive separation of graduate and undergraduate studies, allowing professors to cultivate relationships with students on a more personal basis.

Marc Johnson will remain in his position for the next three years and while he hopes to serve the university for more than said time, he said that Nevada is likely the place that he’ll retire from.

“We love the Reno-Sparks area.  We think it’s the best climate we’ve ever lived in,” he said.  “We enjoy the arts activities, outdoor activities and the university – why would you ever want to leave?”



Learning to Crawl: City Council Faces Reno Locals Concerning Beer Crawls

9 May

The silence in the chamber room at City Hall faded quickly as throngs of people filed in. The empty seats quickly became occupied, and when no more were available, people began to line themselves against the wall.

Mayor Cashell and City Council members entered at their own pace, organizing their spots at the panel and making sure no shortage of coffee and water was to be had: they were in it for the long haul.

There were numerous issues on the day’s agenda, but one particular group of people, seated quietly in the middle back row, were waiting for one issue only.

“Shall we skip past item I?” said Dave Aiazzi, City Councilman for Ward 5.

City Council members Dave Aiazzi, Jessica Sferrazza and Pierre Hascheff along side City Manager Andrew Clinger toil over their work at the April 26 City Council meeting.

Jokingly, Aiazzi got a decent response of laughter from the crowd; but this was no joke to the small group of people there to defend themselves.

The issue at hand was changes to be potentially made in the city codes for special events, and while this may not seem to pose a direct threat to most events that happen in the Reno area, one group of events are being targeted in particular: the beer crawls.

“We have never been considered a special event,” said Ed Adkins, organizer for the Zombie Crawl, Superhero Crawl and Vampire Crawl. “We have no street closures, and our event is not held on sidewalks, it’s held inside of bars.”

Adkins began the Zombie Crawl in October of 2008 by combining his love of Zombies with the fortunate landing of Halloween on a Friday.

“I love zombies a lot – an unnatural amount,” Adkins said. “Which, I think, any love of zombies by definition is unnatural.”

Adkins had no idea that what started as his own birthday celebration would turn into an event that drew more than 4,000 participants merely five years later.

“It’s my favorite time of year,” Adkins said. “It’s all of my holidays rolled up into one when I am doing these bar crawls.”

With the popularity of these events increasing year by year, Reno City Council members feel it is only fair for these events to have to pay for total cost recovery for these events. That would mean having enough police staffed to control such a large crowd, as well as paying for clean up.

A representative from the Reno Police Department makes his case at the April 26 City Council meeting.

Representatives from the Reno Police Department (RPD) that were present at the meeting made their own case by saying that a number of their officers were forced into overtime on the night of the last Santa Crawl, costing RPD extra, unplanned expenses. However, part of this can be attributed to the fact that they originally scheduled only eight officers for the event.

“The police are just trying to be more prepared,” said Jessica Schneider, owner of Junkee Clothing Exchange in Reno, a store that specializes in antiques, second-hand clothing and costumes, along with sponsoring the major crawls in Reno. “But what they are asking for is unreasonable.”

Any event that falls into the category of a special event is required by the city to pay for a permit. However, it’s not the permit itself that is seen as unreasonable.

“Once you have to register for a permit, the city can turn around and say, “here’s a bill for the amount of police we will need, here’s a bill for cleanup,” and those bills can be detrimental,” Adkins said.

Being slapped with excess bills by the city could mean the end of these events if local business owners cannot afford them or choose not to pay. Even the Santa Crawl, which does obtain a permit every year for a street closure, could face the repercussions of these impending changes.

Ed Adkins, organizer of many local crawls in Reno, NV, addresses City Council members about his concerns as a tax payer and event organizer at the April 26 City Council meeting.

“It looks as if the Santa Crawl will have to pay $12,000 to put it on,” Adkins said. “And that is an event that arguably brings in hundreds of thousands of dollars each year.”

While $12,000 might not seem like a lot of money to an event that generates such a high revenue, the Santa Crawl donates 100 percent of its proceeds to charity. Adkins, also, donates one third of his proceeds to charity, having made a $3,000 contribution to the Washoe County School District in the past, as well as a $10,000 donation to the Red Cross.

The economic increase during the times in which these events occur are not only seen for the participating businesses, but in hotels, restaurants and even stores like Schneider’s Junkee.

One of the special cups on display at Junkee for The Zombie Crawl, which draws in thousands of participants each year, seeking out their best undead gear at places like Schneider’s store.

“The Zombie Crawl was actually our best day we have ever had,” Schneider said. “Not even Burning Man brought that kind of business.”

Candidate for City Council’s At-Large seat and owner of Java Jungle and Jungle Vino in Reno Matt Polley, also benefits greatly from being a participant in these events.

“The Santa Crawl is our biggest number,” Polley said. “It’s the most special event that Jungle Vino sees all year long.”

Being a graduate of the University of Nevada, Reno and a local business owner, Polley’s passion for his community runs deep.

“I love Reno,” Polley said. “I believe in the power of the individual to improve his neighborhoods and change his city.”

Polley is reasonable, and maintains that logic and common sense are what set him apart in his campaign for City Council. The crawls are something he definitely does not want to see go, and believes that the people of the community should dictate the way their government is run.

“The best way they can be most effective with this issue is to get the folks involved prior to writing ordinances,” Polley said.

Adkins agrees, believing that because City Council is a part of this community that everyone should have their part in it.

“The city isn’t coming to us with their part,” Adkins said. “I think there should be someone in the city who cares about these events and sees things from our perspective and works in between us and them.”

City council maintains that they do see the benefits of these events, saying that in no way are they trying to get rid of these events or discourage them from happening. However, presenting small, local business owners with a bill they can’t pay is a discouragement in itself.

Candidate for City Council’s At-Large seat and local business owner Matt Polley (left) shows his support at the April 26 City Council meeting.

“We know that there are expenses that are associated with these crawls,” Polley said. “Economically, it’s good for the entire group. We should not burden the expense simply as bar owners, but you have a group of people that are patronizing these times and they, too, are in a position to help facilitate the process.”

The facilitation of this process will continue Wednesday, May 9 at noon, when the next public City Council meeting will address this issue further. However, it is believed that the process for coming to an agreeable solution for all involved will take months.

One thing is certain, and that is that all players involved want the public to be aware of what is happening and for the city to work with them in an effort to keep these events alive.

“People need to understand how important it is for folks to come together and talk about these issues,” Polley said. “If we can do that, then we are well along the way.”

Food Truck Friday Represents Reno’s Changing Culture

11 Apr

It’s not the modest gray pants, casual blue striped hoodie, or even the bright orange Baltimore Orioles shirt that made Markus Andrejs stand out in a crowd. It’s the fact that he was carrying an over-size, old school boom box blaring Madonna out to a lively crowd of long lines.

“When you’re in a bigger city than Reno, long lines are normal,” Andrejs said.

As a culinary student at Truckee Meadows Community College, Andrejs attended the event to see the success of food trucks in Reno. There was a long line at St. Lawrence Pizza, the truck Andrejs was waiting to order from, so it’s a good thing he, and the crowd, had some music to pass the time.

“I will wait with my boom box. It’s no worries,” Andrejs said.

Reno local Markus Andrejs livens the crowds as he waits in line at the First Food Truck Friday.

And wait he did, among many other Reno residents. These lines stacked up for Food Truck Fridays, downtown Reno’s newest social gathering where locals and tourist alike can explore the mysterious, sub-cultural world of the food truck. It began Friday, April 6, at the old RTC bus station on Center and Fourth streets, from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. and will continue every first Friday of the month through October.
The idea was born in the minds of Haley Wood and Jessie Watness, owners and operators of Gourmelt, one of the food trucks featured among the many options.

“It’s something we have always wanted to do, it just wasn’t the appropriate time,” Wood said. “People are doing it everywhere in the country. Reno wants to be like that, but it’s slower to pick up.”

Food trucks have much more commonly been a staple of bigger cities like New York, Philadelphia, and most notably, Portland.

Portland has built quite a reputation for itself in the world of mobile eateries, counting 500+ licensed food trucks in the Portland area, according to

“One of my favorite things about Portland are the plethora of food trucks, and the creative food that they offer,” said Cassie Lankford, former Reno resident and current Portland State University student.
“Not only do the carts provide ease and fast service, they provide good food,” Lankford said. “I’m talking about local fruits and veggies, local meats and dairy as well.”

Although it’s much smaller than Portland, the Reno food truck culture has been quick to follow suit. Gourmelt uses local eggs from and their bread comes from local bakery, House of Bread.

Eager patrons make their way toward the front of the line at Gourmelt grilled cheese truck.

The sense of community that exists in the supporting of local products extended, also, to the over all ambiance of the event. Teenage girls gossiped among themselves. Little boys gained a more advantageous viewpoint by climbing a tree. An older woman in a wheelchair sat to the side with her husband, quietly enjoying themselves, while the numerous other Renoites, ranging in ages from not yet walking, to college student, to businessman, to local entrepreneurs all came together to feel a part of something new and exciting.

“We hope this will bring a lot of people out who probably wouldn’t normally come downtown,” Watness said. “The goal is for people to come downtown, something Renoites sometimes avoid. To check out the crowd, dance, see each other, and get people away from the “roach coach” mentality.”

A line-up of some of Great Basin Brewing Company's most popular beers, including local favorite "Icky" Pale Ale and WhoopAss Wit Wtibier.

And people definitely went downtown for this event. The turnout was much more than it seemed anyone anticipated as people waited patiently, even willingly, to get a taste of an already favored or new food truck.

Sauce Wagon, another local food truck co-owned by Justin McDaniel and BJ Mueller, was one of eight choices available for the masses of hungry locals. Serving up traditional barbecue dishes, McDaniel and Mueller had no idea what to expect from this first event.

“We sold out of ribs in the first 40 minutes,” McDaniel said. “It’s just been insane.”

But people didn’t seem to mind this insanity. They happily changed their order to a pulled pork sandwich topped with coleslaw, or took a minute to walk around the plaza and enjoy the live music being provided by local group Daylight Roots, grab a beer from local brewery Great Basin, play on the Tumble Bus, or check out one of the crafts booths.

Local group Daylight Roots sets the mood for the first Food Truck Friday with their unique music, a blend of electronic mixing and live guitar and drums.

Heidi Potter, owner of Gypsy Soul Glass, was among one of the local craft booths on display at Food Truck Fridays.

“Well, I live out of my RV, but I’m a Reno local right now,” Potter said.

Somewhat fitting that she should live out of her RV, as the sense of mobility is what embodies the core of the food truck.

“Food carts bring in a lot of business because they serve up cheap, warm and portable food fast which is great for the many busy bodies in the world today,” Lankford said.

And with Reno being the 24-hour city that it is, busy is something Renoites are quite a lot.

Great Basin employees Don Darue and Doug Booth pour up an Icky for Reno local, Margie Aufranc.

“I think that with all of the action going on in downtown Reno, especially in the summer, that food trucks serving intriguing new foods would benefit greatly,” Lankford said.

The benefit can be found in not only the addition to downtown Reno’s popular summer events, but as a city that faces verbal abuse for its gambling and alcoholics-only persona, Food Truck Fridays could be just the right kind of benefit the community needs to prove what more the locals of Reno have to offer.

“If Reno had some better things to believe in, like great food, local ingredients and a supportive community, it would benefit greatly from that,” Lankford said.