Former UNR basketball players now in business as Pink Hill Properties, LLC. | nnbw.com

Former UNR basketball players now in business as Pink Hill Properties, LLC.

Sally Roberts | sroberts@nnbw.biz

Two University of Nevada, Reno grads and basketball stars have teamed up in business as Pink Hill Properties, LLC.

As their first development project, Kevinn Pinkney and Garry Hill-Thomas are transforming an eyesore across from the university into modern student housing and a gathering place for students.

The pair were part of the 2003-2004 UNR NCAA Sweet 16 team and inducted into the university's Sports Hall of Fame in 2016.

Now they are sinking their roots, and shovels, into Reno soil.

The business partners are developing The Towers at Pink Hill, which is under construction on North Virginia at 14th Street. The four-story, mixed-use building will add 23 units to student-housing options and commercial space on the ground floor.

The project is on three lots that formerly included a boarded up house, an alley, and an open lot used for parking.

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Across from the well kept university, the weed-infested block looked sad and abandoned, Hill-Thomas told the NNBW during an interview in the office trailer at the construction site.

"We just wanted to do something nice for the university. To give something back," Hill-Thomas said. "It was tough driving by and seeing one side of the street looking nice (at UNR) and the other looking sad."

Hill-Thomas and Pinkney, who is currently out of the country playing professional basketball with an Israeli team, already have a track record of giving back to the community.

"Both Kevinn and I love it here," Hill-Thomas said. "We've both made Reno our home."

In 2010, the pair worked with the Children's Cabinet, Inc., to found the Nevada C.C. Wolverines basketball program to help children develop social, athletic and academic skills.

While at the university, Pinkney earned a Bachelor of Arts in general studies with a minor in communications from UNR. After graduation, he played in a European league and briefly for the Boston Celtics in 2007. In the off-season, he mentors and coaches young basketball players.

Hill-Thomas also played professional basketball before returning to Reno. He earned a Master of Business Administration from UNR and now serves as assistant coach with the Reno Bighorns. He lives full time in Reno with his wife and two sons and owns a sports apparel company called Gladiator Athletics.

Together, Pinkney and Hill-Thomas also own the Tahoe Keys Café in South Lake Tahoe.

"I don't consider these 'jobs,' I really don't. I enjoy every part of them," Hill-Thomas said referring to his work coaching, in development, and the restaurant.

Now Hill-Thomas and Pinkney have taken their love for the community and UNR a step further, by tackling the eyesore across from the university.

What at first seemed like a problem that could be solved with a few phone calls and financing, turned into a three-year battle.

They purchased two of the offending parcels and discovered zoning restrictions blocked their plans. The west side of North Virginia Street was zoned for single-family homes.

"It took many many phone calls, lunch meetings, pledges, begging," Hill-Thomas said.

Through several months, the city worked with them through layers of red tape to rezone their lots to multifamily and mixed use.

But the victory was short-lived. Their lots were next to a home, creating another obstacle.

"Come to find out, if its next to a single-family home, you can't build multifamily next to it," he said.

"We explained what we planned to do; what we planned to bring to the area."

In a year and a half working with the city, the officials caught their vision.

"Garry has a pretty amazing vision and Kevinn has a different vision that's overlapping," said Ira Gostin, owner of 120 West, which is handling promotions for Pink Hill. "Their vision is so unique to what is going on here."

With the city on board, the entire block was rezoned to allow mixed, multifamily and commercial development.

"Within a couple weeks, a couple student-housing development companies literally bought the entire (remaining) block," Hill-Thomas said.

The Tower at Pink Hill is expected to be finished in July and ready for students headed to the university in the fall.

The architect for the mixed-use project is Studio HBA, of Reno, with TFP, Inc., serving as general contractor.

When complete, the 23 units, which range from studio to four-bedroom, will provide housing for 54 students with individual leases. The larger units will have a common area with tenant rooms separated with individual locks.

"Modern mixed-use buildings have, not only housing for students, but easy access to the university," Hill-Thomas said.

"The concept is a little foreign to Reno, but you see it in major cities."

Below the student housing units, 8,000 square feet of commercial space will also serve student needs.

Greater Nevada Credit Union is set to occupy half of the commercial space, as well as providing financing for the project.

The remaining space will be filled with what Hill-Thomas calls a three-restaurant concept that the business partners envisioned.

The goal is to build the social side of life for students attending a major college campus; to provide an easily accessible place to gather after games, meet friends and eat, he said.

"Many students don't have the luxury of cars" so they need easy walking access to places to gather and get food.

Pink Hill will offer a café/deli concept, a modern twist to a pizza place, plus an ice cream sandwich shop.

Much of the concept is to pick-your-own ingredients.

Pizzas will use fresh and healthy ingredients with customers selecting toppings similar to a subway sandwich shop, Hill-Thomas said.

Ice-cream sandwiches will be assembled to order with customers selecting the type of warm cookies they want and the flavor of ice cream to go between them.

The café will also have a different feel, Hill-Thomas said. "Our own modernized version."

It's all designed with the needs of students and their families in mind.

"We wanted to create a safe environment, a newer environment," Hill-Thomas said. "A lot of housing around here are older buildings.

"It's also a place for parents to leave their kid and feel it's a safer environment as they drive home."

Despite the difficulties at the start of the Pink Hill project, the experience has only whet the appetite of Pinkney and Hill-Thomas.

"We plan to continue this and continue to grow," Hill-Thomas said.

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