CommRow team seeks to change conversation about downtown

Fernando Leal, one of the biggest believers in the renaissance of downtown Reno, counts on a bunch of strangers to help him make his case.

And so far, the strangers are stepping up.

Leal's active sports venue CommRow, the old Fitzgerald's is less than two months away from opening, and his team is begin to provide the first hints at its marketing approach.

CommRow launched a photo contest at to solicit photos of outdoor activities, cultural offerings and special events around the region.

Winners will receive memberships in CommRow sports facilities most notably, a 167-foot climbing wall on the building's exterior and VIP treatment at the property's opening in September.

But Leal says the contest marks the first step in a concerted effort by DRW Fitzgerald Real Properties LLC, the entity developing CommRow, to change way that northern Nevada residents think about downtown Reno.

"We don't have a product problem in downtown Reno," he says. "We struggle with our brand."

While investments in public facilities ranging from the whitewater park along the Truckee River to Reno Aces Ballpark have been accompanied by significant private investment in downtown Reno, Leal says downtown continues to battle the perception among local residents that it's a neighborhood dominated by its scruffier elements.

Interestingly, he says many of the hundreds of photos submitted to the "Our Real Reno" Web site during the first days after it launched came from out-of-towners who shared their photos and volunteered their essays about the attractions of downtown Reno.

But the success of CommRow, Leal says, will depend largely on its acceptance by residents of northern Nevada. And for that to happen, he says, CommRow and other downtown businesses need to convince folks that there are compelling reasons to venture into downtown north of the Truckee River.

The spectacle of climbers perhaps dozens at a time working their way up the walls outside the 16 stories of CommRow may provide one of those compelling reasons. So might gigantic climbing boulders inside the property, surrounded by birthday party rooms, specialty restaurants and fitness facilities. So might outdoors-oriented programming ranging from fly-fishing demonstrations to bicycle tours that the CommRow team will launch during the next year.

For the moment, Leal keeps his hard hat handy as construction continues inside the first three floors of the property. In recent days, construction crews focused on the exterior balconies that will provide a starting point to climbing-wall participants.

Within a few weeks, the climbing walls built by Entre Prises USA of Bend, Ore., will begin to be installed. So will the climbing boulders inside the property.

Leal is confident the property construction will be completed for the September opening, but he's sweating out operational details that begin with careful hiring and proper training of CommRow's staff.

"We've got only that one shot at making a first impression," he says. "We're going to be very sensitive to a controlled rollout."

After the active sports elements of CommRow are running well, the redevelopment team of DRW Fitzgerald Real Properties LLC will begin to prepare about 135 to 175 hotel rooms in the property for opening in the spring of 2012. CommRow will be a non-gaming property.

Construction outside the building already is beginning to generate buzz.

One afternoon last week, a couple of young teen boys stared up at the property and asked a passerby what was happening. They were told about the climbing wall.

"We've got to come back," one said over his shoulder as they hurried off to tell their mothers.


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