What's Up Downtown: Great cities have great downtowns (Voices)

Alex Stettinski is executive director for the Downtown Reno Partnership.

Alex Stettinski is executive director for the Downtown Reno Partnership.

Forging a path ahead for downtown not only includes more robust clean-up efforts and improved safety, but it will also take a more comprehensive and holistic vision with a lot of baby steps and adjustments along the way.

Reno Mayor Hillary Schieve says that, “Great cities have great downtowns.” What she means and what we accept to be true is that a great downtown is clean and has a high-density; has a diverse mix of residents, workers of varying types; boasts retail services that feed, clothe and entertain those people; and transportation needs are managed and available. It also means we have clean parks, event programming and an overall sense of safety for everyone.

You have already seen a handful of those changes but maybe didn’t realize they are part of a larger vision to create a clean, safe, livable and vibrant downtown community.

Soon, a new group of Park Ambassadors will join our Downtown Ambassadors in extending our reach to residents and visitors. The City Council approved funding for the new Park Ambassadors to help monitor and serve the community at Barbara Bennett Park and Bicentennial Park on the west side of Arlington on the Truckee River.

And they will also do the same work at Brodhead Park east of downtown. Since those three parks were outside of the BID’s boundaries, a special contract with the City was approved. This is a crucial step to managing all the parks downtown along the river. The city is separately hiring their own Park Rangers to assist with this effort.

More recent positive changes for downtown include the recent whip ban ordinance, a series of upcoming code updates related to packaged alcohol in the downtown area, activating Reno City Plaza, and the Virginia Street Urban Placemaking Study. Over the past few years, the City also implemented a motel inspection program and new streetscape development standards that will make for better parking, better walkability and more trees to our downtown.

We get the sense that folks see those initiatives as separate unrelated parts, but they are in fact one vision. They are all part of what I mean when I talk about balancing downtown and making it safe and healthy for all demographics.

We’ve already talked about the more than 1,700 residential units coming online, due to innovative programs like 1,000 Homes in 120 Days. That means at least 2,500 people are moving downtown if we assume an average of 1.5 residents per unit. Those people will generate a critical demand for services. Those 2,500 or so people are going to have high expectations of their new neighborhood.

So, we’re doing our best to build a runway.

Soon, the City Council will hold a public hearing to consider eliminating single-serve beer and liquor sales at downtown convenience stores. The hearing is scheduled for November 10. Alex Woodley, City of Reno Director of Code Enforcement, will present to Council and explain how single-serve bottles of beer and spirits can contribute to an unsafe downtown.

In addition to that, Council will consider requiring that all convenience stores dedicate 10% of their floor space to fresh food.

Downtown Reno is a Food & Drug Administration “food desert.” That means there is no fresh, inexpensive food within walking distance of the various motels and condominiums. This issue disproportionately affects people who don’t own vehicles and don’t have access to reliable public transportation.

Several stores downtown offer produce, most notably Urban Market, but the majority do not and most especially do not in large quantities. That means people living in motels, condominiums and future apartments must rely on restaurant food, fast food and highly processed non-perishables available within walking distance. This leads to health issues, costs people more and contributes to yet another piece of the cycle of poverty.

Consider that we have a growing university student population who are living downtown and walking to and from class, and they need healthier options.

To the larger local and regional business community, it’s time to start looking at ways to invest in downtown to capture these new audiences. Start looking into opening new branches and/or relocate to downtown in time for those housing units to open. You can reach out to us at the Downtown Reno Partnership to learn more and get connected with property owners looking to lease space.

Combining the above with public art, improved streets and sidewalks and a complete vision, will help us arrive at that “great downtown.” We have work to do, but it’s important to acknowledge the great work we’ve done in a short amount of time.

“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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