SoDo district grows ripe for trendy development

Bohemian business owners are creeping into a developing neighborhood south of Reno near Cheny and Center streets.

Colonists call the area SoDo it's located about a mile south of the river and say it's poised to become as trendy as its name.

But some established businesses are already ensconced on the outskirts of the neighborhood: Stremmel Art Gallery, Silver Peak Brewery and Rad Betty's clothing shop.

"This is a changing little neighborhood," says Terry Fegan of SoDo short for south of downtown. She recently bought the house that became The Isles, a specialty shop, and says, "Everyone here has a sense of this going to be something."

Fegan cites her neighbors as the reason why. She points to GreySpace art gallery, Rose's cafe, the recently completed Eight on Center residences and the proposed Toma Townhouse project.

Across Virginia Street, the tiny restaurant Sup saw a line form on opening and on weekdays the lunch hour sees standing room only.

At 2,200 square feet, A Salon 7 on Cheny Street is among the largest business fronts in SoDo. Owner Jennifer Oxier, known as JennyO, opened in 2004.

"I knew the culture was fresh," she says. "The city had already done downtown. I heard this was next on their list to be redeveloped, but it's been three years and they've done nothing."

It's more urban than downtown, she says, pointing to the large murals that cover the exterior walls. "Artists can paint on our walls at any time. We're taking the artistic approach; trying to do what no one else is doing to be successful."

Every bohemian district needs an art gallery and SoDo has GreySpace, located in half a duplex. Associate Chris Fairchild says the building, purchased in March, was remodeled from residential to commercial. With half yet to lease, he's gotten inquiries for the 600-square-foot space from coffee shops and wine bars, but would like to sign a retail boutique.

However, he plans to combine two adjacent garages to house a coffee shop tenant. Until then, he plans to rent the spot to the non-profit Holland Project as temporary space and at a discount.

Creative companies such as Domus Design Group and Estipona Group Advertising & Public Relations have also staked out office space in the neighborhood.

Edward Estipona, who took space in 1996, says he was attracted to the area because of its proximity to clients located in downtown Reno. However, he adds, "In 1996 our office building was in great shape and the neighborhood was not."

But things have changed over the past 10 years.

"Today SoDo's creative independent businesses are quietly doing business without ties to casinos, high rises and big box chain stores. SoDo draws customers who go out of their way to seek out an independent business, not a cookie-cutter experience," he says.

Another believer is Kelly Rae of HabeRae Investments, Inc., who with partner Pam Haberman, developed the zero-lot single-family residence project, Eight on Center.

"I see Center Street, not Virginia Street, as the gateway to downtown from the south," says Rae. "The gateway to your city should be beautiful."

But to become that, she says Center needs to become an avenue of street lamps and narrowed to one lane of traffic to make room for bike path and parkscape.

Next on the drawing board for HabeRae: SoDo 4, which targets four brick homes for an urban-renewal project. Located north of Eight on Center, the bungalows were built in the early 1900s as housing for engineers of the V&T railroad, which ran along Holcomb Avenue. Completion is slated for March with homes priced under $169,000.

SoDo 3, still in preliminary stage, will be a mixed-use development on an infill lot across from SoDo 4. The mix will include affordable apartments, a hair salon, and an art gallery that allows local artists to show at no charge. Proceeds from sales will go to charitable causes.

"I've contacted every property owner in the SoDo district, but nobody wants to sell me any more," says Rae.

One neighbor, however, bailed for downtown digs after less than a year on Cheny Street. LaBussola owner Meredith Tanzer says, "It's a hip neighborhood." But while bullish on SoDo's prospects, she points to seven empty buildings within a two-block radius of Cheney and Virginia and says the area is still several years behind the downtown retail river district.

"We have it all here but it doesn't have the appeal yet," says Jenny O.

Rick Clark of Clark Real Estate is among those listing properties in the area.

"It's just starting to develop," Clark says. "We're getting some interest, but it's not like they're beating the door down."


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