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Las Vegas dumps McCarran, unveils Harry Reid International Airport

Updated December 14, 2021 - 2:10 pm

A new era in Las Vegas took flight Tuesday as McCarran airport was officially rebranded as Harry Reid International Airport.

The name change in honor of the longest serving U.S. senator in Nevada history was made official at a ceremony Tuesday morning that included dignitaries such as Gov. Steve Sisolak, members of the Reid family and Carlos Monje, undersecretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation. Nevada Sen. Jacky Rosen chimed in via video while Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto sent a recorded video message.

Reid, serving from 1987-2017, wasn’t able to attend the ceremony, but released a statement about what the monumental occasion meant to him.

“For my whole life I’ve been coming and going from McCarran Airport, since the first time I ever got on a plane, back in 1958,” Reid said in the statement. “This airport has been my gateway to the world. During my 35 years in Washington, I was here a lot. Home means Nevada, and for me, the airport long ago became synonymous with home.”

A person close to the situation said the 82-year-old Reid and his wife decided not to attend the event because of the ongoing threat of COVID-19. Reid was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2018.

Tuesday was a long time coming for Clark County Commissioner Tick Segerblom, who played a vital role in the renaming process. Segerblom led a years-long push, highlighting McCarran’s controversial history, one that included racist, anti-Semetic and xenophobic stances.

“Sen. McCarran in retrospect was not a perfect human being and did a lot and said a lot of bad things,” Segerblom said. “To remove his name from what is now the multicultural center of the United States is very important. We are not the Nevada Sen. McCarran worked at or lived in. We are a very multicultural, diverse, a multiracial, a multi-ethnic city.”

Segerblom led the push to rename the airport at the county level, which resulted in the unanimous approval by the Clark County Commission in February. He previously attempted to get the name swap process started at the state level during his time as a state senator.

Sisolak took a flight to Las Vegas from Carson City to attend the event, marking the last trip he would take to the airport with the McCarran name.

“I was by no means surprised when I heard that the commission voted unanimously to rename the airport in honor of Sen. Reid,” Sisolak said. “It brings me great pride knowing that millions of people from around the world visiting our state will be greeted by our amazing hospitality and by the name Harry Reid International Airport. While some passengers may or may not know this outstanding national leader, the state of Nevada will never forget his legacy and we’re more than proud to bear the name of a person who has done so much for the entire state of Nevada.”

Work to ready the airport for the name unveiling has been occurring at local, state and federal levels.

That included the county setting up a bank account to raise money for the rebrand as no taxpayer funds were to be used. That fund reached $4.2 million in October, allowing planning for the first of three phases of physical work to begin. An additional $2.8 million needs to be collected to carry out the two other phases of work at the airport.

Digital signage in and around the airport was changed to reflect the Reid name at the start of Tuesday’s ceremony. The airport also updated its social media accounts early Tuesday morning, removing McCarran and adding the Harry Reid name ahead of the ceremony.

Two renderings of planned signs were unveiled Tuesday, one with light features planned for near Tropicana Avenue and Paradise Road and another depicting the Terminal 1 North porte cochere. However, there is no concrete timetable on when work may begin to remove the old signage and install the new versions.

Harry Reid’s eldest son, Rory Reid, said tying his dad’s name with one of Las Vegas’ main drivers of visitors made too much sense given both of their beginnings.

“My dad was born in a two-room shack in a lonely spot in the Southern Nevada desert. All he had was a work ethic and a small circle of people that loved him,” Reid said. “Despite that he rose. He became a dominant national political figure, unlike any other in Nevada’s history. Likewise this city was born in a lonely spot in the Southern Nevada desert. It too relied on the grit and determination of a small circle of people that believed that they could create a future. And because of them this is the entertainment capital of the world. So it’s understandable that we would name this airport, the lifeblood of our community’s economy after that man, in this place.”

Contact Mick Akers at makers@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2920. Follow @mickakers on Twitter. Staff writer Gary Martin contributed to this report.

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