Tuesday, April 2, 2019

The Renossance: How Reno Takes Advantage of the Economic Upswing

I often get strange looks when I respond to someone’s question regarding what was a key catalyst to the sea change in attitude around and about Reno.  The financial meltdown of less than a decade ago was one of the best things that could have happened to our area.  Though we all financially suffered, some more than others, through the greatest shift in wealth the country has ever seen (and hopefully ever will), what happened post meltdown was amazing to see and be part of.  Egos were checked at the door and we, as a community, brushed ourselves off and came together to figure out what we can do to move the greater Reno metro area forward into a functional, sustainable regional economic player without sacrificing the incredible quality of life.

Truckee River Walk
Futurist Alvin Toffler stated, “Change is not merely necessary to life - it is life.”  It’s an evolutionary fact: change or face extinction.  For too long the region has relied on gaming and mining to do most of the heavy lifting regarding state and local coffers.  It’s not only myopic but unfair to those industries to carry the burden as one continues to decline and the other is cyclical at best.   Gold alone has dropped under $1300/oz compared to its high of over $1900/oz 6 years ago.  What was needed was a community mindset change.  That is what we see happening today.  Reno will be successful in spite or because of itself.  With the collective positive change in self-image, I see it as the latter.

Welcome to The Renossance!

Based on the feedback of the recently published ReImagine Reno survey (as of this writing) that nearly 6,000 Renoites responded to, Downtown was the #1 choice of what people didn’t like about Reno.  Mayor Schieve, following through on her campaign promise continues to
Marriott Renaissance
make this a top priority. Two of her administration’s top activities include:

  •      Operation Downtown panel which is a results-driven group of stakeholders, primarily from the private sector, that is defining the top 3 priorities to focus on for downtown revitalization.  I am very actively involved.  And yes, results will come of this!
  •     Blight Reduction/Code Enforcement – The city has already noticed the investment group that owns 2/3 of a blighted downtown city block that they are moving forward with the demolition, paid for out of the budget surplus with a lien being placed on those properties.  Code enforcement is busily hitting similar properties and owners in the downtown core with similar code violations.

As with many of my compatriots in real estate and development, I am seeing a substantial increase in interest from individuals, investors and companies.  This comes with a mixed blessing as increased interest has met with an unrealistic valuation by a number of
Downtown Post Office
downtown property owners due primarily to the Tesla announcement and UNR’s master plan showing the university moving south.  As most of us agree, these announcements, though monumental, won’t really affect our economy for some time. 

Regarding UNR, the Northern Gateway (property south of UNR to I-80) will be purchased by UNR.  The Southern Gateway, what I’ve termed the University District for the past few years, comprise the quadrant from Virginia to Evans, 4th St to I-80.  UNR is relying on the private sector for the redevelopment of this area to fulfill the following requirements that are in immediate need:

  • ·       Undergrad Housing
  • ·       Graduate Housing
  • ·       Faculty Housing
  • ·       Administrative Space
  • ·       Additional college facilities
  • ·       Daycare Centers
  • ·       Parking

UNR, by far, will contribute more to our economic development than any one company.  Our Tier 1 University is a crown jewel of the region, one we must do a better job promoting.  The commercialized technology coming out of The Nevada Advanced Autonomous Systems Innovation Center (NAASIC) will far eclipse the economic impact of Tesla.  Time and space does not allow me to expand on what our Medical School and Business College brings to the table.

As a native New Yorker, my perception of challenges may be skewed.  I see the issues that face Reno, especially downtown, are minor in comparison as to what other, similarly sized communities overcame and are now perfect examples of what can be.  William Holstein’s
Whitney Peak Hotel
book, The Next American Economy, is filled with chapters of cities that have done what we are doing…pulled themselves back from the brink.  We have the pieces; we have the tools; we certainly have the will and capability. 

As we have seen with the modicum of success of our MidTown District, it takes a strong belief from the private sector, to drop that pebble in the pond.  Hillary Schieve and Jessica Schneider had a vision and created the MidTown brand.  Followed by the small developers including The Carter Bros and Marmot (to name the most notable) MidTown became our new, hip place to eat, work and live.  The Riverfront is doing the same.

Throughout many urban core environments around the country and globe, repurposing dilapidated, obsolete structures into new highly functional facilities is not only historically conscious, but financially sound.  The downtown motels destined for demolition do not fit into this category, as they hold no historical or financial value.  We, as a city, must choose wisely!

3rd Street Flats

With a continued depressed downtown core, Reno is ripe for repurposing many of the existing buildings that have long since outlived their intended purpose, whether gaming, motel or T-shirt shop.  Many of these can be remade into residential, the key to attracting the much-sought-after retail.  We need more downtown residents that will drive up the median income, increasing the tax base and providing a compelling reason for something like a supermarket opening up here again.  The challenge still remains reasonable sellers. That notwithstanding, Reno has already created several re-visioned properties, with more on the board (images spread throughout this post).

Tesla, Switch and the yet-to-be identified big players have certainly put us on the map in a very positive way.  Once nonexistent on site selector’s radar, we are quickly rising to the top.  We have an incredible quality of life and story to tell.  

Mr. Holstein, here’s to writing the next chapter!

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