Sitting at a desk stacked high with plans and blueprints, Dean Hanson, general manager for CommRow, discusses his strategy to put the property back on track with the opening of 320 newly renovated hotel rooms next spring.
Reno Real Estate Ventures LLC, owner of the old Fitzgerald's property on Commercial Row in downtown Reno, is moving forward with ambitious plans to renovate 12 floors of hotel rooms and the Chicago-based firm also has plans to remodel and open four long-shuttered businesses adjacent to CommRow.
Hanson says the first three floors of CommRow were about 80 percent finished when the property opened in late 2011. Since then, Hanson says, the building's owner has spent more than $1 million to complete restaurants, remodel several bars, complete construction of the second-floor check-in desk for the rock climbing park and third-floor concert venue, and bring a parking garage across Virginia Street up to code.
Demolition work had already begun on the majority of the building's 13 floors of hotel rooms, but the work was halted because there wasn't a firm renovation plan in place, Hanson says. Management is finalizing the look of the hotel rooms with a target opening date of early spring. The fourth floor of CommRow will be used for executive offices and possibly a gymnasium.
Hanson took over management duties for CommRow after the original salaried developer, Fernando Leal, left the property in mid February.
"That's what I am really focused on right now, is the whole direction we are going," Hanson says. "We are right in the middle of figuring out what we want to be when we grow up, and we are definitely getting there."
Gary Estes of Ace Architects is employed fulltime on the CommRow project and has an office in the building.
Renovating the property is a daunting task.
In-house crews had begun a willy-nilly demolition plan on most of the upper and lower floors before being halted, leaving old mattresses, vanities, televisions and other detritus strewn about several hundred rooms. Once the mountains of old furnishings are removed, each room will be stripped to bare sheetrock and will be redone with new wall treatments, finishings, furniture and bedding.
"It will be a very modern, upscale look; it is not going to be a third-rate product by any means," Hanson says.
The job is made even more difficult by a compressed 14-week construction window. CommRow has yet to select a contractor for the renovation, but there is a clear frontrunner for the job, Hanson says.
The goal to start the project is Oct. 22. CommRow won't open the hotel until the entire building is complete, Hanson adds. The CommRow team also is working with several contractors to evaluate whether to install completely new plumbing and HVAC systems or to rework existing systems.
"We are not going forward like this is a work in progress; we are going to get to the finish line and button it up."
Hanson expects to hire up to 65 fulltime workers to staff hotel operations, including several management positions, such as director of hotel operations, controller, human resources manager, sales and marketing director, group sales, and front desk and housekeeping manager.
Hiring is expected to take place in the next three weeks to 90 days.
March is the target date for opening the hotel so it can capitalize on spring weather and work out any kinks before the start of the busy summer tourism season.
Pete Wallish, economic development administrator for the Reno Economic Development/Redevelopment Agency, says the CommRow project is an excellent opportunity for the city to see a once-dark downtown hotel/casino renovated into a use for both locals and visitors.
"The development and amenities of CommRow will supplement the surrounding downtown establishments and provide an additional entertainment purpose to explore downtown," Wallish says. "We are excited about the additional employment opportunities that redevelopment of the CommRow project will provide and the economic advantages of having the facility open."