RENO - Nevada's tourism commission is considering a new state sponsorship role to help prop up the Reno National Championship Air Races as organizers scramble to raise the final $600,000 needed to cover an increase in insurance costs after last year's tragic crash that killed 11 and injured more than 70.
Organizers remain committed to the 49th annual competition set for Sept. 12-14 and have obtained the $100 million in necessary insurance at Reno-Stead Airport but face a Sept. 1 deadline to pay off the $2 million premium - up a whopping $1.7 million from last year's $300,000.
The Reno-Sparks Convention & Visitors Association's board is scheduled to vote Thursday on an RSCVA advisory panel's recommendation earlier this month to provide $75,000 to help cover the bills.
But race officials said Wednesday that they're still short, and any potential help from the state could prove critical as they move into "crunch time."
"The importance of this event, both on the social landscape and economic well-being of the state, cannot be understated," said Mike Houghton, the race director who cites studies estimating the annual impact on the local economy between $55 million and $80 million.
The races and the possible "parameters around sponsorship" are on the Nevada Commission on Tourism's agenda for a public meeting scheduled via teleconference on Thursday. They appear on the "presentation" section and no amount of money is listed but NCOT spokeswoman Chris Moran confirmed a vote could be taken.
"It is an action item," she said.
Moran said the commission currently sponsors two events in the Reno area - The Great Reno Balloon Races and the Tour de Nez, each for $10,000. In recent years, she said, such sponsorships have typically been in the $10,000 to $20,000 range but had been worth as much as $50,000 during more prosperous years.
At a meeting next month, the Reno City Council also intends to discuss the possibility of taking on some sort of sponsorship role at the air races, city spokeswoman Michele Anderson said Wednesday.
Houghton, the local community and "air race fans around the world" have combined to help raise $1 million for this year's event, which he said annually attracts nearly 200,000 fans and fills hotel rooms for a combined 50,000 nights. Reno-Stead Airport is just north of town.
"Buoyed by the overwhelming support of our fans and many of those affected by last year's tragic accident, we remain committed to holding this historic event," Houghton said Wednesday in an email to The Associated Press.
"However, we still remain more than $600,000 short of the required amount," he said. "We are excited about the opportunity to work with the Nevada Commission on Tourism and are deeply grateful for the NCOT's generous efforts and potential sponsorship to ensure the continuation of this great and important event."
Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki, chairman of the commission, was not available Wednesday to comment, a spokeswoman for his office said.
Race officials have not requested any specific amount of assistance but have kept state officials apprised of their financial situation and the "need to pay this premium," said Mike Draper, a spokesman for the air races. He said they welcome any help and are anxious to discuss any circumstances surrounding potential sponsorships.
"It's crunch time for us," Draper said. "It's not desperate, but it's urgent."
"Sept. 1 is our drop-dead date, but we need commitments well in hand before Sept. 1. We're looking to the state to pitch in and help keep alive an event that has attracted many tourists to the area for a very, very long time."