EDITOR’S NOTE “What’s Up Downtown” is a monthly Voices column in the NNBW authored by Alex Stettinski, executive director of the Downtown Reno Partnership. This month’s column was co-written by Jeff Limpert, Revitalization Manager for the City of Reno.
The Reno City Council recently approved a Downtown Virginia Street Urban Placemaking Study. This study seeks to create a unified vision to the form and function of probably the most iconic sections of Virginia Street. The one-mile stretch from 9th Street to Liberty Street connects the University of Nevada, Reno to Midtown and is surrounded by various commercial and residential uses, including our casinos, financial district and student housing — and our river runs through it. This section of Virginia Street is home to many incredible special events and entertainment options, and is enjoyed by thousands of visitors each year. But, it is also on the cusp of change. No one is gambling at Harrah’s; it is in the process of becoming Reno City Center. This exciting mixed-use conversion project will provide additional housing units to our downtown, commercial activities and office space. Canyon Flats has increased the amount of foot traffic by students. You see it daily. Student housing opportunities are increasing in and around downtown, and while it is not direct investment from UNR, it is a step in the right direction to create the space needed for such investment to occur.
Additional projects along Center Street and adjacent to Greater Nevada Field will soon increase housing opportunities and place more people in our downtown core. With increased density of people comes opportunity for investment in bars, restaurants, services and entertainment; not only for downtown residents, but those living on the outskirts of Reno who rarely make their way in. For these very reasons, we need this study to understand what role Virginia Street has under this shifting and new paradigm. Yes, we have completed many studies. But we need to get this right. What should Virginia Street become and how do we leverage this momentum? How should Virginia Street develop to create better transportation options, increase housing and provide for additional commercial and retail opportunities? How do we better incorporate our plazas and our special events? While the previous studies have provided a great foundation for the redevelopment of our downtown, they never specifically address what this looks like. The Urban Land Institute (ULI) in its 2016 study of Virginia Street called for a master plan to be completed for Virginia Street. In many ways, this new study can be seen as that master plan. And yes, placemaking is a buzzword. But it is the word that best represents the intended goal — to promote design options to develop Virginia Street in a way that people will want to live, work, play and learn in our downtown. This process will be collaborative and will engage a broad set of stakeholders. There must be buy-in — not only from those who interact with Virginia Street, but those who have direct influence on the outcomes. This study must establish a cohesive vision. As we work through this process, we ask the community to be involved, engaged and most important, optimistic.
The intended goal is to provide a range of options based on various factors that can influence a certain vision, and it will be up to our community and our elected representatives to determine what range of options best execute that vision that represents our community’s desire for Virginia Street. We are in the early stages of this process as the Request for Qualifications (RFQ) to seek a qualified urban design firm was just recently released. The lion’s share of work will be completed in the first part of 2022; however, we are already looking at ways to help incorporate the community’s vision into this process. One such way is by working with the Downtown Reno Partnership on its own visioning process. The vision exercise is a modified SWOT analysis that looks at the current strengths and weaknesses, opportunities and threats for specific areas of downtown. There will be input from various stakeholder groups, including UNR, the medical community, the brewery and Riverwalk districts, and other area leader groups. The result will be a clearer understanding of how various urban neighborhoods will or should evolve. The work being completed in that process can be integrated into this study and further aid the selected firm in understanding the community’s desire for downtown. We look forward to working with our community and all stakeholders through this process to define the form and function of Virginia Street. You can reach Alex Stettinski for comment at firstname.lastname@example.org, and Jeff Limpert at email@example.com; go to downtownreno.org for more about the Downtown Reno Partnership.