Renovated Fitzgerald's aims for non-gaming, budget hotel niche

The owner of Fitzgerald's Hotel has begun renovating the property and plans to reopen the shuttered hotel at Third Street and Commercial Row by mid-summer.

The changes proposed by DRW Fitzgerald Real Properties, LLC for the 16-story hotel opened in 1976 signify a big change in the business model of downtown Reno properties, says Larry DiVincenzi, marketing and operations manager for the newly branded CommRow resort.

DRW Fitzgerald Properties, which purchased Fitzgerald's out of bankruptcy in 2007 and closed the struggling hotel/casino in November of 2009, is upgrading the first three floors of the property into downtown's first non-smoking, non-gaming resort.

A massive 167-foot high outdoor climbing wall facing Virginia Street and an indoor bouldering park are just two of the proposed amenities at CommRow.

"It is symbolic of a different kind of downtown Reno," DiVincenzi says. "It is a different kind of message than a slot machine or a craps table. Today's market for gaming isn't one of expansion; it is one of retention."

DRW Fitzgerald Real Properties is managed by Fernando Leal, former owner and developer of the Montage condominium project.

DiVincenzi says that the idea to renovate the closed Fitzgerald's property into an outdoors-themed property came to Leal in late November, and by December the developer had started moving forward with his plans. The outdoor climbing wall touted as the largest in the world originally was intended for the Montage, DiVincenzi says. At its highest point, the wall will be 197 feet from Virginia Street. Climbers will start from a second-floor balcony to be extended from the Virginia Street fa ade, and two climbing routes will extend to the top of the building.

Entre Prises USA of Bend, Ore. will build the wall, which will be managed by RockSport of Reno along with the 7,000-square-foot indoor bouldering park. Robb Jennings Construction has been working on the interior renovations, which primarily focus on cosmetic changes, DiVincenzi says.

"They don't have to do lot of structural stuff; the building is like a fortress," he says.

Workers for Jennings Construction have removed much of the original ceiling soffits and have filled more than 40 full-size commercial trash containers with demolished material and miles of old cabling and wiring. A new balcony also is planned on the north side of the building, and exterior walls will be opened up to allow more natural lighting to the interior.

Garry Estes of ACE Architects designed the interior remodel, which encompasses about 60,000 square feet across the three floors.

CommRow expects to employ between 150 and 200 employees, DiVincenzi says, and the property is studying several types of employment models. The proposed re-opening of CommRow is especially important given its proximity to the renowned Reno arch, says Steve Polikalas, president of the Downtown Reno Improvement Association. Additionally, he says, the outdoors-themed amenities should lure a more youthful crowd to the downtown corridor.

"The concept of an extreme sports, non-gaming budget-minded hotel facility is a great niche to try and fill in Reno," Polikalas says. "It's a market that that needs to be filled. Seeing people doing adventure-type sports in and on a building in a location like that will be exciting. Adventure and ecotourism is all over the world, and we have to provide facilities to accommodate that."

Peter Wallish, City of Reno economic development manager, agrees that a non-smoking, non-gaming entertainment property can give residents and visitors alike an additional reason to come downtown.

"This development is an excellent opportunity for the city," Wallish says. "Redevelopment of CommRow helps assist future development and hopefully it will be the first of many projects that will start moving forward as the economy starts to pick up."

In addition to remodeling the public areas of the property, 136 rooms on floors four through eight are planned for renovation. The remaining 211 rooms will be upgraded as market demand dictates. CommRow also will be a pet friendly facility with a 1,500-square-foot doggie day care center.

"I hope this is the start of something great in downtown Reno, and Fernando has some visions that will be released in next few months that will be really exciting, and that is what we need," DiVincenzi says.


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