Go Big

Driving out to the Ashburn Home Depot along Loudoun County Parkway, I was struck recently by the sheer size of all the data centers going in. I did some online searching and was surprised to learn that our area now is home to 70 data centers with more planned for the future. When I lived here during the 1990s the area was still very rural. AOL was expanding their footprint but for the most part, turf farms seemed to be the major development. All that has changed now and there are homes and retail establishments from Ashburn to Brambleton, from Route 28 on up to Belmont Ridge Road. 

With more than 70% of the world’s internet traffic passing through our area, it isn’t a surprise to expect even more development in the coming years. Trying to find a careful balance between residential growth and commercial development has been a difficult challenge. The data centers have brought much needed employment opportunities to our local economy, and added to county revenues.

Data Center Frontier’s Rich Miller reports that the ongoing rush to build more data centers has resulted in the county receiving “fast-track applications” for seven new data center projects that will result in 3 million square feet of new data center space in the region. In addition, last month Data Center Dynamics reported that Amazon is planning construction of a new 1.75 million square foot data center facility in the area as well.

My concern isn’t so much in the number of data centers that we host as it is in the visual effect they have on our community. Our wide roads are beautifully landscaped and well maintained. Yet, the enormous size of the newer developments seems to be softened only with the addition of low berms, landscaping and small trees. Perhaps in 20 years all that landscaping will have grown into effective visual barriers. Right now, not so much.

In an article from the December 26, 2019 Loudountimes.com newspaper, Nathaniel Cline wrote that “In the coming year, Loudoun County’s Department of Economic Development will conduct a branding review of the data center cluster in Loudoun and explore potential branding and signage campaigns as directed by the county’s Board of Supervisors on Dec. 17.”

He also added that “Included in the Board of Supervisors’ direction is for county staff to consider a roadside sign or monument to support the branding efforts. Areas for signage could include major thoroughfares such as Route 28, Route 7, Waxpool Road and Loudoun County Parkway.” 

So my question is more in the range of a suggestion and an example.

My home town of Reno, Nevada has continued a years-long effort to “rebrand” the city from that of a gambling and tourism-only focus to one that has greater appeal  to residents and visitors alike. One of the steps they have taken is to make the city more “art friendly,” specifically public art friendly, by encouraging (and in some cases helping finance) public sculptures and large scale murals. Reno is a city that had one mural when I was growing up there (“Harolds Club or Bust!”) and now boasts more than 100 murals, with tours available! https://travelnevada.com/arts-culture/through-the-lens-midtown-mural-tour/

When I reached out to Reno City Government recently, Megan Berner the Acting Manager of Arts, Culture, and Events, City of Reno emailed me back. She said that much of the growth and interest in public art came after the establishment of a Public Arts Commission in 1990.

Quoting Megan “The mural movement itself in Reno was very organic and mostly driven by individual artists (like Erik Burke) and private business owners–most of our murals are on private property. The murals on private property are privately funded for the most part. The City helped fund the large mural behind the red flower in the image you attached–it is on a public building owned by the County. 

We also have fairly relaxed rules about painting murals on private property. The only real guidelines/rules we have is that murals cannot be signs/advertisements for the business. They need to be art or comply with our signs laws.”

I contacted Loudoun County Supervisor Mike Turner with the question: what can we do to encourage the owners of these big box, concrete buildings to consider enriching their buildings and our community with outdoor art? His gracious response was welcoming.

The concept Reno developed of turning that vast wall space into art is fantastic. It sounds like Buddy Rizer, the Director of Economic Development, is already looking at that as a possible improvement. Clearly that whole section of Ashburn has been aesthetically impacted by these massive buildings, and I should warn you that, as horizontal real estate has begun to reach its practical limit, the data centers are starting to talk about vertical development. They own the land, so there’s not much we can do about that.

Supervisor Turner concluded, “The challenge we face is that Ashburn, VA is now exactly like the oil boom towns of the late 19thcentury, except Ashburn is a global boom town. “Data Center Alley” in Ashburn is literally the iconic center of the data world. They are extraordinarily good community partners supporting many local nonprofits and educational programs, and they represent an enormous slice of county tax revenue. That plays a major role in enabling us to keep property taxes in line. I’m also working with them to move them onto sustainable energy sources for the great amounts of power they use. I promise you we are aware of the issue and are looking at any way to mitigate the visual impact they are having.

We have a challenge in front of us; I don’t expect that suddenly we will see sculptures and murals and other forms of public art appearing around every corner. I do hope, however, that as we continue to build out our environment with massive concrete boxes, we might give more than a nod to how the region is going to look in five or ten years. Will we continue to be Data Center Alley, or can we hope for something along the lines of a High Tech Gateway enriched by artwork of a scale to capture our imaginations and the explosive power of the internet? Let’s hope so.


Photos from two of Reno artist Erik Burke’s murals in Reno, NV. View more of his largescale work on his website https://eriktburke.com/

Celebrating 100 Years of Rodeo

Last summer we flew out to Las Vegas and drove out to visit the Grand Canyon. On February 26, 2019, the Grand Canyon National Park celebrated 100 years since it’s designation as a national park with events and activities scheduled all year long. When I discovered this year that 2019 was also the centennial of the Reno Rodeo, I nearly had a heart attack. We could have celebrated two centennials in one year! It wasn’t until this year, long after we had canceled plans to visit Reno, that I found an online article outlining last year’s events for the centennial of the Reno Rodeo.

It was over the July 4th weekend, July 3-5, 1919 that local promoters had scheduled the first Reno Round-up. The community celebration was led by the Commercial Club at the time, which merged with the Reno Business League in 1919 to form the Reno Chamber of Commerce. 

Nevada Round-up, from The Yerington Times, Yerington NV 1919

In 1937 the Reno Rodeo and Livestock Association was formed to manage the event. In 1987, they celebrated their 50th anniversary and reorganized as the Reno Rodeo Association. Reno Rodeo Association has led this signature event which has grown into a 10-day romp entertaining 140,000 fans each year. https://renorodeo.com/about/history/

But going back to the beginning of it all, The Silver State newspaper of Winnemucca, NV published an article in July of 1919 in which they mentioned that the Round-up would “mark the first representative gathering of Wild West riders, buckaroos and range experts since the beginning of the war nearly five years ago.” 

The first rodeo advertised $5000 in prize money. During last year’s rodeo, June 21 thru June 29, contestants were expecting to  compete for their chance at nearly $500,000 in prize money. Wow. That’s some growth!

The annual rodeo was a major event when I grew up in Reno. My pals and I attended as much for the adjacent carnival as we did to watch the bull riding and calf roping events. But it’s been decades since I’ve seen a rodeo in person. 

When I learned that last year was the centennial, I decided to create my own commemorative poster. That, and the hand painted frame to showcase my Nevada roots, became my most recent project.

A vintage frame, a silver dollar and two bucks in mercury dimes from my Dad’s estate, turquoise cabochons I cut back in my college years, red coral cabochons I found on Etsy along with cowhide from an outlet in Texas to serve as a backdrop for my state: all found there way into my mini memorial. An Ode to Cowboys!

I was given a vintage picture frame several years ago and have waited to find just the right project to use it on. I decided to go with a whimsical western-style frame decked out in red coral cabochons, silver to commemorate Nevada’s position as the Silver State, and several of the turquoise gemstones I’ve had stashed away in a box for the past 40-some-odd years.

One of the outstanding features of Nevada, at least to those in the Northern part of the state, are the beautiful high-mountain waters of Lake Tahoe. Using another piece of turquoise to represent the lake, it is set on a cowhide background featuring the silhouette of Nevada.

The completed project will find it’s home in our guest bedroom along with a number of other graphics, books on the area, and memorabilia I’ve collected thru the years. I might have missed out on last year’s celebration, but I’ve at least got my own souvenir of the celebration, and it’s definitely one of a kind!

Home Means Nevada!