On the wing

We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: If downtown Reno wants to be in the summer special events business, Reno must learn from the lessons of the past to improve the current crop of events for tourists and locals.

This Fourth of July weekend was filled with activities that could have served as launching pads to encourage locals to get involved in their community, but in many ways, they just reminded locals that the city’s metaphorical center is often better avoided when the summer special events season hits.

The 10th Annual Great International Chicken Wing Society Cook-off and Street Fair brought thousands of people downtown with vendors, entertainment and chicken-wing cooking contestants all contributing to the general festivities. It had potential to be a great time, but the usual frustrations—and an apparently new one—made the event less than it should have been.

Some chicken wing enthusiasts—and vendors—were shocked that the permitting process only allowed street vendors to sell food up until 7:30 p.m. Most everyone who lives in Reno is aware that the streets of downtown get extremely hot in the heat of the day, and Virginia Street is best avoided until the evening when the shadows lengthen. As long lines formed after 6 p.m.—when locals came down to sample the delectable wings—many complaints were heard regarding the early closures.

One Circus Circus security guard said that the reason the booths closed at 7:30 p.m. was because a “certain element” comes out after dark, and the city of Reno was attempting to prevent problems. Many of the chicken wing booths were shut down an hour before the mandatory cut-off, as vendors had stopped cooking to avoid wasting product. The guard also commented that there were more people on the street in the evening than had been there all Saturday. Come on, this could be done much better. One way to decrease problems downtown is to increase police patrols downtown during special events. There were few municipal police at the event; in accordance with new “beer garden” laws, there was a much larger contingent of uniformed casino security guards in the streets.

Another way to prevent problems at special events is to enforce the city’s laws against public drunkenness on the street, but it has become apparent that the public intox laws are selectively enforced, and city-sanctioned events, like the wine walks, or events like New Year’s Eve, St. Patrick’s Day, or Cinco de Mayo, get a pass. There were many plainly intoxicated individuals in evidence at the chicken wing event.

Finally, our annual summer complaint: The city of Reno shuts down the streets of the downtown corridor with little warning and little signage to support drivers—many of whom are unfamiliar with downtown’s incomprehensible traffic patterns—about how to negotiate detours. A few “road closed ahead” signs or “detour” signs on either side of Virginia street directing motorists to the nearest open cross street or the freeway would prevent a good many illegal and dangerous u-turns, traffic snarls and flaring tempers.

The city of Reno and downtown properties should get together to figure out how best to run special events so that the area surrounding downtown can operate smoothly. After all, there are lots of reasons to come downtown during weekends in July—swimming in the river, Artown and the baseball stadium—even the chicken-wing cook-off—but locals and tourists alike are just as easily trained to avoid the area.