What's Up Downtown: A vision for Downtown Reno – sooner or later (Voices)

Alex Stettinski is executive director for the Downtown Reno Partnership.

Alex Stettinski is executive director for the Downtown Reno Partnership.

Downtown Reno is full of passionate leaders who have many ideas about what needs to be fixed and improved to turn our downtown area once again into a vibrant neighborhood.

There are various reports that spell out in detail what should be done — the most recent ones were the City of Reno’s Downtown Action Plan from 2017, produced by the Progressive Urban Management Associates (P.U.M.A.) and the Urban Land Institute (ULI) Advisory Services Panel Report from 2016.

The important thing to keep in mind is we need leadership and follow-through so these reports don’t end up in a binder on a shelf somewhere. Instead of constantly getting new reports, let’s look at what has already been done and how we can implement the suggestions already made.

Some recommendations already have been realized — the removal of dilapidated motel structures, for example, or the conversion of Harrah’s Hotel and Casino to a substantial mixed-use project that includes over 500 apartments, 150,000 square feet of office space and over 78,000 square feet of retail. The recommendation to build more housing downtown is also realized through a few other projects, which will add over 1,500 new units within the next couple of years.

University of Nevada, Reno is mentioned in both reports as a potential driver to add new life to the downtown corridor. P.U.M.A.’s report mentions that the “UNR 2014 Masterplan calls for the creation of the University District between Downtown and UNR, with the goal to catalyze the area with University induced uses aimed at creating a safe and secure mixed-use neighborhood.”

The report suggests a mixture of housing, some of which is already realized, and more to come soon. It also calls for student-oriented retail and entertainment options. Other potential actions include enhanced walking and biking streets between UNR and the Truckee River.

The Downtown Reno Partnership, in cooperation with the City of Reno, added six solar trash cans along Virginia Street to enhance the walking corridor. Some of the sidewalks were also repaired, better lighting was installed and is still being improved, and Regional Transportation Commission is working on a comprehensive bike lane system, which will take bicyclists safely from UNR all the way to Midtown.

Some action items in the P.U.M.A. report are intended to diversify tourism draw to downtown. Public-private partnerships are suggested to address cleanliness and safety issues, and the integration of arts into public spaces is strongly recommended.

The Downtown Reno Partnership is that public-private partnership, which has made a substantial difference in the cleanliness and safety since its start in 2018, and the Locomotion Plaza is a great improvement to public space and demonstrates exactly the integration the report suggests.

So why don’t we have an amazingly vibrant and revitalized downtown with all the improvements made that were recommended by these reports?

The biggest piece that’s missing is much more difficult to control and expedite — development of the many empty lots and buildings we have in downtown. There are many reasons why property owners aren’t developing their lots or selling it to a developer who could.

And that is the most visible part of downtown. The improvements we’ve made together with our community certainly moves the needle, but they don’t cover up vacant buildings or dirt lots that people so often call out.

Then there is the “critical mass” every substantial retailer is looking for — the number of residents living in downtown — so they can secure a steady flow of customers into their retail stores. We are getting there — we will increase residents to downtown by at least 2,000 with all the residential development in the pipeline. This will get us much closer to the tipping point needed for retail businesses seriously looking at downtown as a location.

So, we must still forge ahead. The plans put forth by ULI and P.U.M.A. were meant to take a long time. There was no magic wand to wave to make it all happen at once.

The City and DRP are working on a new visioning exercise — looking at the reports and looking at the current climate that has somewhat changed through the challenges of the pandemic. An executable vision is crucial as a driver for the development of downtown.

The DRP is interviewing a variety of stakeholders, including representatives of the various districts in downtown, at UNR, and with residents, property owners and community leaders.

It’s a Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats analysis for downtown and a wish list of what downtown should have and feel like.

We will approach property owners and developers and encourage them to buy into the vision and do what they can do to help realize this vision. City leadership will hopefully make this vision a priority through a workplan and allocation of funding.

It’s baby steps, but by constantly keeping this vision in front of the community, committing to follow-through on ideas and leading the change people want to see will make that vision real — sooner or later.

“What’s Up Downtown” is a monthly Voices column in the NNBW authored by Alex Stettinski, executive director of the Downtown Reno Partnership. Reach him for comment at


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