Selling Ice | SierraSun.com

Selling Ice

Emma Garrard/Sierra Sun file photoChristine Hotchkin performs during an ice dancing exhibition at the Olympic Ice Pavilion at Squaw Valley USAs High Camp in May 2007. Regional tourism officials are trying to think of ways to market Reno-Tahoe as having a Culture of Ice.
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RENO (AP) Trying to lure visitors to the Reno-Sparks area in the wintertime when the weather is cold, gray and often snow-covered has always been a challenge for casino and tourism officials.But during a brainstorming session last week, one idea surfaced to embrace the elements Reno has to offer by marketing a Culture of Ice to attract visitors from across the nation, Canada, and the lucrative Asian market.Hardcore fans of speed skating, curling, hockey, figure skating and other winter activities are not deterred by poor weather or temporary road closures.With Reno having this close proximity to the Sierra, creating this culture of ice around ice skating, whether it be short track skating or hockey or whatever, seems to be a real fit, said Carl Ribaudo of South Lake Tahoe and president of the Strategic Marketing Group tourism consulting firm.From that standpoint, I would hope that people would take a further look at it. I don’t know if it would be a success, but it certainly warrants a closer look.While many community leaders have bought into the culture of ice concept, they said it would take a long and expensive process to accomplish. Plans are under way by the Reno-Tahoe International Sport Council to get a five-year run at the International Skating Union’s World Cup Speed Skating Championships.The best teams in the world in short-track speed skating are Korea, China, Japan, Canada and the United States, said Jim Vanden Heuvel, the CEO of the Reno-Tahoe Winter Game Coalition.So, you really have a great Asian draw for short track which makes it a great draw from the Bay Area, the Central Valley of California, Los Angles, Vancouver and Seattle. Those are very strong areas for potential Asian tourism. Plus it would be a great draw for the Pacific Rim.The Reno-Tahoe area currently lacks the ability to stage events that would surround the culture of ice concept. Lawlor Events Center, the region’s largest indoor facility, does not have a floor large enough for a hockey rink or speed-skating track.Plans to rent a sheet of ice, which could cost $100,000 to $200,000, and stage the World Cup speed skating competition at the Reno-Sparks Convention Center have been discussed, Vanden Heuvel said.Reno-Sparks Convention andamp; Visitors Authority could combine with other entities to buy an international sheet of ice, although the estimated cost could be up to five times the rental price, Vanden Heuvel said.An international sheet of ice could fit on the floor at the convention center and still give us about 5,000 seats, Vanden Heuvel said.For the first time around for a short-track speed-skating event, I think we could fill it and keep if filled, Vanden Heuvel said. Is it enough? It depends on how greedy we get. It is enough for now and if we want to go bigger, we can go and look at the long term goals of what we want to do.Sparks officials and the developers of the Legends at Sparks Marina project have plans to build an indoor arena that could stage speed skating, hockey and other ice competitions. The arena could seat up to 7,500 and cost up to $70 million, Mayor Geno Martini said.That would be a perfect venue, Martini said. First of all, we have to get it done. We are still working on the financing so it is not a done deal by any means. But we are looking at a 6,500 or 7,500 arena and if we can get it done, it would be perfect for speed skating.The culture of ice concept, however, is not only about tourism. Regional planners see ice facilities at the convention center or the Sparks Marina as great places for local hockey, figure skating and other recreation opportunities.You have to look at it strategically, Ribaudo said. Does it make sense for Reno to make this kind of investment in creating this culture of ice that would be beneficial to the community?It would have to become part of the Reno-Sparks culture, whether that is kids taking lessons, not just figure skating but hockey, short-track speed racing or any of the other Olympic events, Ribaudo said.Making these facilities available to the community is a great way to enhance the quality of life for the community. At the same time, it could really put Reno on the map in terms of a destination.