What's Up Downtown: Making our mark downtown with ReTRAC Plaza (Voices)

Conceptual view of the ReTRAC Plaza in downtown Reno. Mural by Brad Carney.

Conceptual view of the ReTRAC Plaza in downtown Reno. Mural by Brad Carney. Courtesy: Dave Cubberly, Stantec

As the world starts to slowly open with vaccine availability, I find myself daydreaming of traveling.

I think of all the fabulous cities that I have been to and what I miss about that traveling — the hustle and bustle of city life, unique shopping, special events, buildings with character and brightly colored murals, and a nice place to get a coffee, sit in a park and watch the world go by.

Alexis Hill, a Washoe County Commissioner for District 1, is a board member for the Downtown Reno Partnership.


We are all drawn to places that have a story to tell. I am honored to sit on the Downtown Reno Partnership board because we are working to make this dream a reality in downtown Reno.

I’m thrilled to introduce a new community mural and landscaping project that will be coming to the heart of downtown Reno on the ReTRAC Plaza between the Whitney Peak Hotel and Eldorado, just north of the Reno Arch on Virginia and Third streets.

I can tell you as a former City of Reno employee this location has been a difficult location for the City to program and execute a vision. The ReTRAC Plaza is actually a bridge, so you cannot redevelop the space with buildings (because it has weight limits), as has been suggested in the past.

The Plaza originated to cover the dangerous trains that ran through Downtown Reno. The project, called Reno Transportation Rail Access Corridor, or “ReTRAC,” was completed in 2005. There were plans to make it into a major green way park space, but with the recession hitting in 2008, the plans never completed. Years of budget setbacks halted future plans, too.

Luckily, it became a wonderful space for special events that happen most weekends April-October in downtown Reno, in particular, the grape-stomping contest held during the Italian Festival.

There has been long-time community concern and involvement in trying to do something innovative to beautify the ReTRAC space over the last 15 years. While I was an employee at the City of Reno, I worked with Mayor Hillary Schieve, Councilmember Neoma Jardon and Megan Berner to apply for the Bloomberg Asphalt Art Initiative Grant in 2020.

The Asphalt Art Initiative is a new grant program created to “incorporate art into public spaces in a variety of ways” including, “visual interventions on roadways, pedestrian spaces, and vertical infrastructure,” according to their website.

We thought that a mural on the ReTRAC lid would be a wonderful way to create color and the feeling of movement in the space, and wouldn’t interfere with the vibrant special events plaza that it had become.

The City of Reno was one of 16 cities chosen for this grant. The City’s Arts & Culture Commission worked on a call for artists for the grant and chose Brad Carney, a professional artist from Philadelphia, to paint “Locomotion.”

The key part of this mural is that it’s interactive so that families can walk the abstract rail path or stroll the perimeter on a stripe pattern that takes you all the way around. The artist also paid tribute to Reno’s sagebrush, mountain landscapes and beautiful sunsets.

The Bloomberg grant awarded the City $25,000 to pay for Carney, his team and materials.

But the Downtown Reno Partnership isn’t ending our efforts with this mural. What started as a conversation about improving the poor-quality soil and trees currently on the sides of the concrete plaza, quickly bloomed into a full-sized landscape plan.

We were awarded a Nevada Main Street grant to add landscaping to the north and south side of the Plaza. That $50,000 grant plus $80,000 from the Partnership will pay for the landscaping material.

The Nevada Landscaping Association and Stantec graciously donated $25,000 of their time to create a resource efficient, low maintenance landscaping plan for the Plaza.

Starting last week, Omega Landscaping and the City of Reno Urban Forestry team are working to improve the soil and plant 16 large trees with a bed of perennials all the way around the lid. The outcome will be year-round flowering and plant diversity.

Carney will be coming to paint his mural in downtown Reno June 7-11. We invite the community to come down and safely join in to “make their mark” on the ReTRAC Plaza.

The City of Reno launched an official sign-up form so people can pick time slots throughout the week to participate. Each team will be led by a local artist.

The Downtown Reno Partnership is executing a vision of making our downtown a great place to gather, live, and build a business. Reno has a story to tell, and I know that this project will play a role in creating a sense of place. I look forward to this project and many others coming into view post pandemic as they illuminate the future of our community.

“What’s Up Downtown” is a monthly Voices column in the NNBW typically authored by Alex Stettinski, executive director of the 
Downtown Reno Partnership. This month’s column was written by DRP board member Alexis Hill, who is also a Washoe County Commissioner. She can be reached for comment at ahill@washoecounty.us. Reach Alex for comment at astettinski@downtownreno.org.


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