What's Up Downtown: A new year for the Downtown Reno Partnership (Voices)

It has been over two years since the Downtown Reno Business Improvement District, aka Downtown Reno Partnership, opened its doors, and I’d like to take inventory of what the organization has accomplished to support and improve the community, and how it plans to move forward in the new year.

There are over 1,200 business improvement districts in the country, most of them funded through assessments of property owners in a specific area for a specific purpose or benefit. They perform services that local governments may be unable or unwilling to provide, usually due to restricted budgets. BIDs and BID services aim to promote and expand business activity in the district, creating more jobs and furthering economic vitality and revitalization.

The Downtown Reno Partnership has a three-tiered approach. The ambassador program addresses cleanliness and safety issues and helps stir our homeless population to services and housing options. The marketing program is set to help our local businesses though seasonal marketing campaigns and through continuous outreach via social media. The economic development program is assisting developers, brokers, businesses and investors with valuable resources and information to help them in their research about downtown Reno as a possible new home.

So, what are the accomplishments and goals looking forward for each of the programs?

The ambassador program, the most visible of all services the DRP provides, started with 14 ambassadors, including one focused on social outreach. Today, we have a team of 22. The social outreach team has expanded to five, including two licensed outreach workers, elevating the program to a new level, with a lot more options to tap into services for those in need.

The team is now even better equipped to support the Built for Zero approach Washoe County and the cities of Reno and Sparks have adopted — a data driven approach to help reduce and ultimately eliminate functional homelessness (see joinbuiltforzero.org for more information). In one year, 33 individuals were referred to long term programs and/or housing by the ambassador team, and hundreds referred to shelters and/or other services.

The same team responds to an average of over 250 hotline calls/month, most of which related to nuisance issues. These calls are taken off Reno Police’s plate, enabling them to focus on bigger crime. The ambassadors are working in close coordination with law enforcement to support them in their effort to re-balance the downtown environment.

The pandemic, of course, added a layer of challenges, which has delayed our efforts. The Nevada Cares campus — anticipated to be up and running later in the first quarter — and its badly needed resources will only help. Downtown Reno still isn’t as balanced as we would like it to be, and these new resources will give us an opportunity to get closer to a downtown that is inviting to all demographics equally.

With over 4,000 website page views per month and 1,600 subscribers to the DRP newsletter, we are educating the local community about new businesses in downtown and encouraging locals to frequent our businesses though seasonal campaigns.

To that end, we just finished our Holiday Deal Hunt, which successfully drove people to participating businesses.

The constant changes in restrictions to try to get the spread of the pandemic somewhat under control presents apparent challenges to the business community, and the BID’s marketing program supports local commerce as much as possible during these trying times. As it is with most things, communication is key to a successful collaboration, and the DRP’s marketing efforts are helping build community in Downtown Reno.

The youngest program is the economic development program — in only one year, it was able to become a useful source of information about Downtown Reno. Developers and investors have looked at the statistical data DRP is able to provide.

An interactive webpage shows all 29-plus developments in their various stages at-a-glance and is constantly updated. A survey of university students provided invaluable information on the needs and wants of the student and faculty community just north of downtown, and several potentially important developers have approached DRP for information.

Another important role is placemaking. Attractive places are crucial for the revitalization of an area, and Downtown Reno still has room for growth in this sector.

DRP, in partnership with Reno councilmember Neoma Jardon and many other community leaders, has driven forward the beautification of the ReTRAC area between Virginia and Sierra streets. By summer of 2021, the area will have experienced a dramatic makeover, which includes trees, landscaping and a mural, covering the concrete lids. More surveys and potentially a market feasibility study are a few of the goals the economic development program will undertake.

Downtown Reno is a very complex work in progress that cannot be improved by a single entity. Like a well-oiled machine, there are many parts to the puzzle, which will continue to create the change we are looking for. Will it all happen in 2021? With great certainty, it will not, but this year will get us yet a bit closer to the end goal.

“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 astettinski@downtownreno.org.


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