$1 billion Neon district aims to clean up West Fourth Street; 'some complex issues' are of concern

This sculpture is "Bloom," built by Michael Christian, a large interactive lights and steel sculpture.

This sculpture is "Bloom," built by Michael Christian, a large interactive lights and steel sculpture.

RENO, Nev. — The makeover of West Fourth Street began in earnest this summer with the creation of the Reno Neon Line District by Jacobs Entertainment.

Jacobs owns much of the land from West Street to Keystone Avenue that's between Fifth Street to the north and Third Street to the south.

The Las Vegas-based gaming company also owns the Gold Dust West and Sands Regency, and it's in the midst of extensive modernization efforts at the Sands in order to transform the aging hotel property into one of the region's premier hotel-casino destinations.

Initial steps for the Reno Neon Line District include constructing four concrete pads that will hold art sculptures from Burning Man, says Jonathon Boulware, vice president of Nevada operations for Jacobs Entertainment.

Work is underway for the pad site in front of the Sands. The beautification efforts are part of a larger reinvestment plan designed to drive customers back to West Fourth Street, with the goal of creating an art/entertainment/retail/residential district anchored by the Sands Regency.

This piece of art is "Desert Guard," built by Lu Ming, a giant steel Mongolian warrior that stood guard over the Burning Man playa in 2018.

“We put a lot of effort into the Sands Regency,” Boulware says. “In order for us to really develop this area into something we all can be proud of, the Sands has to become one of the finest properties in Reno. We put a lot of effort in the beginning of this process into the Sands.”

‘The finest gaming property in the Reno market'

In mid-July, Jacobs Entertainment announced it would spend more than $1 billion to create the Reno Neon Line District that includes up to 2,000 residential units on 10 sites already acquired by the company. It plans to spend more than $250 million to transform the aging Sands into one of the region's premier hotel-casinos.

“When completed, the Sands Regency will be without a doubt the finest gaming property in the Reno market,” Jacobs said in a recent press release. “Together, Reno's Neon Line and the Sands Regency will create a new focus on a visitor-friendly downtown Reno.”

The Sands Regency has already overhauled its buffet restaurant.

Renovation efforts already completed at the property built in the early 1970s include a complete remodel of the buffet to modernize the kitchen and expand the dining area. Guests also now have a dedicated elevator that leads directly to the buffet.

Jacobs Entertainment also modernized 11 hotel elevators, added a new central heating and cooling plant, and removed the small main loading dock from its current site at the west side of the Empress Tower and reconfigured it to the south side of the property so it can better serve the property. It's also changed out most common-area carpets, flooring, lighting and other aesthetic aspects of the Sands.

Jacobs also plans to renovate the 225-room Empress (west) Tower before moving on to modernize rooms in the property's two other towers. Jacobs purchased the Sands in 2017 from Truckee Gaming.

“We knew we had to do all this,” Boulware says. “This property is an older building that's been here 30-plus years. In order to be competitive in Reno we knew we had to improve the property, and to complement (the Neon Line District), it has to be a nice property.”

A look at the main casino floor inside the Sands Regency, which recently saw new machines installed.

‘Much safer and much cleaner'

Cleaning up the nearby corner of Fourth Street and Ralston Avenue also ranked highly on the company's development plans. Jacobs purchased the Quik Mart at 501 Ralston Street and demolished the building to create more open space, and it also modernized and repurposed 44 rooms at the former Crest Inn and rebranded the property as Renova Flats.

Jacob's renovation efforts along West Fourth Street also include demolishing several dilapidated motels. The Lido Inn and Mardi Gras and In Town motels between West Street and Arlington Avenue were removed in order to strengthen the brand of West Fourth Street, which once was the major thoroughfare for visitors passing through Reno.

However, like the Mapes Hotel, which faded from glory before being torn down, many properties along West Fourth Street had long since passed their prime.

“The reason why we like this area is because of its location next to I-80, and there's a lot of history here as far Highway 40 and the Lincoln Highway,” Boulware says. “There's a lot of vacant land now, and just with demolishing some of the blighted buildings and the Quik Mart gas station we are starting to see a change. It's much safer and much cleaner.

This sculpture is "Rearing Horse," built by Elko artist and inventor Barry Crawford, a kinetic horse sculpture made of found objects.

“Without building anything substantial yet, we've actually started to see the culture change just by having vacant land — it's been pretty powerful for us.”

Project isn't without challenges and concerns

While the redevelopment efforts have helped reshape public perception of West Fourth Street, they haven't been without challenges. Ward 1 Councilmember Jenny Brekhus commends Jacobs for its investments in west downtown but expresses concern about the removal of low-cost housing options.

“Jacobs Entertainment's investment in both the Gold West Dust and Sands are welcome and encouraging for west downtown,” she says. “Investment in them is important for the properties to be competitive in the local market.”

“Their acquisition of other properties raises some complex issues,” Brekhus adds. “A city staff member calculated that Jacobs demolished 24 acres of land, some which was improved with motels that provided housing to a poor vulnerable population. This also accompanied declines in property assessments and adversely impacts city revenues.

This sculpture is "Bloom," built by Michael Christian, a large interactive lights and steel sculpture.

“Since this calculation, there has been more tear-downs and displacements. Jacobs has not yet revealed plans for these properties, and if they remain vacant for a prolonged period of time, this will impair downtown revitalization.”

Boulware says that most of the motels offered squalid living conditions at best. Jacobs also hired security at Renova Flats and helped rehouse Crest Inn residents during renovation efforts.

‘We have a vision for West Fourth Street'

Residents and patrons alike can expect to see additional changes at the Sands and the Neon Line District, starting with west tower renovations beginning in July and placement of art sculptures later this summer. Jacobs also plans to significantly expand the decking area at the Sand's outdoor pool.

Jeff Jacobs, chief executive officer of Jacobs Entertainment, says the renovations at the Sands are just one part of the company's makeover plans for the West Fourth corridor.

“We are committed to revitalizing downtown Reno,” Jacobs said in a press release. “We have a vision for West Fourth Street and are eager to see it transform into a cultural epicenter for the arts, entertainment and hospitality.”


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