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Reno Air Races appeals for money to save event

RENO — The National Championship Air Races has launched a worldwide fundraising campaign, hoping to keep alive Reno’s 50-year-old aviation event that has been struggling with insurance costs since a deadly accident two years ago.

Mike Houghton, president and CEO of the Reno Air Racing Association, said the organization needs to raise $500,000 by Dec. 15 to keep their operating budget functioning for the first quarter of next year.

The races’ insurance premium ballooned from about $300,000 to $2 million the year after a pilot and 10 spectators were killed and scores injured in a crash near the grandstand at Reno Stead Airport in September 2011.

The premium is still more than $1 million headed into next year’s scheduled races.

The only event of its kind in the world, the National Championship Air Races celebrated its 50th event in September 2013 with approximately 200,000 spectators from all around the world.

“This proved an important benchmark in the event’s recovery from the tragedy of 2011,” the association said in an appeal on its website, www.airrace.org

“Unfortunately, despite a thrilling and worthy celebration, the event suffered a significant financial shortfall for the third year in a row,” the group said.

Houghton said the organization isn’t broke, but has already made some significant staff cuts and is running out of financial options.

“We (don’t) have enough money to move forward all the way through the first quarter without using ticket money that people have sent in and we don’t want to do that,” Houghton told the RenoGazette-Journal.

“What we normally do, like the bear, is we live on our fat through the winter, and (this year), there isn’t any fat,” he said.

“We’re coming out very honestly and saying, ‘Help us. Make donations. Make contributions. Discount your bills.’ And with that combined effort from our community, we’re going to make it,” he said.

Houghton said the event has lost money the past three years, forcing the event to dip into and exhaust its rainy day funds built up in previous years.

Houghton said the Dec. 15 deadline on the fundraising effort was set because the organization needs to make decisions quickly as it prepares for the 2014 event, which is scheduled Sept. 10-14.

Houghton met this week with representatives of the Reno Sparks Convention and Visitors Authority, Reno Mayor Bob Cashell and the major hotels in Reno. He said the response was generally positive, but no financial commitments were made on Tuesday.

Cashell said the city could continue donating in-kind services such as fire and police for the event, but a cash donation is unlikely.

“This is something the RSCVA and the hotel-casino businesses need to look and see what they can do to underwrite them,” Cashell said. “They are still recovering from the tragedy they had. But it would be a travesty to lose the air races.”

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