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ELKO – Old Chicago Pizza is no longer destined to reside within the confines of the Commercial Casino. Instead, grant monies destined to fix up the building’s façade in preparation for the possible construction of the pizzeria and taproom will be directed at restoring the iconic polar bears which have greeted visitors and residents alike for more than 40 years.

Northern Star Casinos, owners of the Commercial Hotel, Stockmen’s Casino and the Scoreboard, were approved for a $25,000 Storefront Improvement Grant earlier this year. Since that time the scope of their plans have changed.

“Since then they have had discussions about relocating the Old Chicago Pizzeria to another property,” city planner Cathy Laughlin said at City of Elko Redevelopment Agency meeting Sept. 11. “The amendment to their grant lists that they will be painting the bears and the façade.”

The exterior bears represent what is claimed to be the world’s largest dead polar bear, stuffed and on display in the casino. According to roadsideamerica.com, the bear stand 10 feet 4 inches and weighs 2,200 pounds.

The company anticipates the project to be over the required $50,000 amount to receive the grant. Catherine Wines, architect for the company, assured the council that the cost would exceed that amount. An official cost estimate is still forthcoming.

According to David Zornes, Northern Star Casinos CEO, the owners now want to locate the pizzeria in the Stockmen’s Casino.

“What we’ve decided is that we really want to build the Old Chicago, if it gets built, at the Stockmen’s instead of the Commercial,” Zornes said. “It just gives us a better space to make a bigger pizza parlor. Still, the Commercial is in dire need of some renovation on the outside of the building.”

Zornes said Steve Tenney from Nevada Advertising will repair the bears.

Other painting and sign removal needs to be done.

“I just want to take a minute to congratulate Northern Star Casinos for all of the investment they have made,” Wines said. “Their commitment to downtown and those two properties is high.”

Councilman Reece Keener made a motion to approve the amendment to the grant award to include the scope of the exterior renovations and the bear repair. The councilmen and mayor approved the change.

“The lot between Fourth and Fifth Street belongs to us. We would fix that lot up, pave it and light it. It would be a very first-class restaurant if it gets approved,” Zornes said.

Zornes agreed that the two polar bears are Elko favorites and need to be restored and kept on the building.

“With this grant we can do quite a bit of work to get that building looking decent. We will work on the worst places first.”

Zornes said he thinks the bears have been around for 40 or more years.

Steve Tenney, owner of Nevada Advertising Sign Co., said Signs Incorporated, an affiliate of his company made the bears. He said that both bears need to be removed to do the restoration. The fiberglass bears were handmade and were top quality for their era.

“They are part of Elko,” Tenney said. They both need extensive work. We are excited about doing this.”

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