LAS VEGAS (AP) — Former U.S. Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada didn’t attend a renaming ceremony on Tuesday making him the namesake of the busy international airport in Las Vegas, but praise was heaped upon him for his foresight and state infrastructure advocacy.
“He knew it was the gateway to boosting tourism,” Carlos Monje, U.S. transportation undersecretary, told family members, elected leaders and administrators gathered at the facility known since December 1948 as McCarran International Airport.
“By investing in infrastructure all around the Las Vegas Strip, visitors are able to more easily (access) the properties and generate millions and billions of revenue for the state,” Monje said.
Reid’s son, former Clark County Commission chairman and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Rory Reid, said his father “regretted not being able to be here” to mark the new name, Harry Reid International Airport, but said he “understands what an incredible honor this is for him.” Rory Reid declined comment later when reached by The Associated Press.
The Las Vegas Review-Journal reported the 82-year-old Reid and his wife, Landra, decided not to attend because of the ongoing threat of COVID-19. Reid was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2018. Landra Reid is a cancer survivor.
Harry Reid served in the U.S. Senate for 30 years, including eight years as Democratic majority leader from 2007 to 2015. He was the longest-serving senator in Nevada history when he retired in 2017. He also served from 1983 to 1987 in the U.S. House of Representatives.
In a statement, the native of Searchlight, Nevada, recalled his first airplane ride at the airport in 1958 and his more than three decades of trips home from Washington.
“I worked hard during my years in Congress to help build and grow the airport, and it is a source of tremendous pride to me,” Reid said in the statement. “It is the indispensable ingredient to Las Vegas’ success; it’s the gateway through which millions come from every corner of the world to see our city, which is like no other place on earth.”
Reid pushed for development of the Terminal 3 international arrivals annex, which opened in June 2012 and served as the site of Tuesday’s ceremony.
The airport handled 51.5 million passengers in pre-coronavirus 2019, including some 3.8 million from cities including London, Amsterdam, Mexico City, Frankfurt, Germany, and Tel Aviv, Israel. The airport ranks among the 10 busiest in the U.S.
The airport was founded as Alamo Field in 1942. It was named 73 years ago for then-U.S. senator from Nevada Pat McCarran, a Democrat whose legacy is clouded by accounts of racism, xenophobia and antisemitism during his time in public office. McCarran also owned the airport, and he lobbied for commercial aviation, federal public works and benefits for his home state. He died in 1954.
Clark County now owns the airport and elected local lawmakers voted unanimously in February to make the name change after years of advocacy led by Clark County Commissioner Tick Segerblom.
“Sen. McCarran, in retrospect, was not a perfect human being and did and said a lot of bad things,” Segerblom said Tuesday. “We are not the Nevada Senator McCarran worked at or lived in. We are a very multicultural, diverse, a multiracial, a multi-ethnic city.”
Officials have said the expected $7.2 million cost to rename the airport is being privately raised, with some $3 million still to come to be used for changing signs and markers from curb to gate at the airport, and for vehicle decals, uniforms and administrative costs.
The airport’s Federal Aviation Administration designator remains LAS, but the FAA began listing the Reid name on aviation charts in June.
Airport spokesman Joe Rajchel said passengers will notice changes on airport social media channels including Facebook and Twitter, although its Twitter handle remains @LASairport.