‘Bridging the gap’ – inside the $33.2 million first step to connect UNR to downtown Reno | nnbw.com
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‘Bridging the gap’ – inside the $33.2 million first step to connect UNR to downtown Reno

Rob Sabo

Special to the NNBW

Renderings by Patrick Ghiringhelli, of Digital Imaging Studio, of the University Gateway parking complex.
Courtesy UNR / Watry Design, Inc.
EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the third in a 5-part series of stories in the NNBW's newest quarterly edition of the Northern Nevada Real Estate Journal, which looks at various statistics, trends and news updates regarding commercial real estate across greater Reno-Sparks. You can read the full series below, or check out the Wednesday, July 29, print edition of the NNBW.

RENO, Nev. — The first steps in the development that will finally form a physical link between downtown Reno and the University of Nevada, Reno campus are slated to begin this fall.

Clark/Sullivan Construction will start work on a seven-level parking garage that’s part of the larger five-building University Gateway project, university President Marc Johnson told NNBW in an interview last week.

The $33.2 million garage will add 814 much-needed parking spots in the southern footprint of the campus where there’s long been a dearth of parking for staff, professors and students, Johnson said. The Gateway Parking Complex, fully funded from university parking permit sales, also will serve up to four additional campus buildings planned for the area that dovetail with the university’s 2014 master expansion plan.

The parking garage is the first piece of development that will link the southern end of campus to the downtown core. Just across Interstate 80 on North Center Street, some incoming UNR students will be housed at the newly completed Canyon Flats apartment complex.

Those apartments are the first of what’s expected to be more private investment to redevelop the neighborhoods south of I-80 to serve the growing university population housed there.

The university’s 2014 master plan was developed in lockstep with the Regional Transportation Commission and the city of Reno, Johnson said. The decision to extend the college’s footprint to the south is in stark contrast to the 2004 master plan, which had the university expanding east into the neighborhoods across the railroad tracks from Evans Avenue to Sutro Street.

Making UNR part of community development

The shift south, though, brings the university closer to Reno’s downtown core and vibrant Midtown.

“When we started on the master plan, we contacted the city and RTC to look at the desires of making the university a part of community development,” Johnson said. “It was very clear, and we immediately agreed, that if the university moved south to the highway it would stimulate private development south of the highway and improve the whole area between downtown and the campus.

Renderings by Patrick Ghiringhelli, of Digital Imaging Studio, of the University Gateway parking complex
Courtesy UNR / Watry Design, Inc.

“It also makes the campus an integral part of the development of the city.”

RTC Executive Director Bill Thomas, formerly assistant city manager for the City of Reno, said in correspondence with NNBW that coming out of the Great Recession, the city received a grant from IBM’s Smarter City program to conduct an in-depth analysis of the community.

The resulting report determined that the full value of having a prestigious Tier-1 university located in the heart of the city was being under-utilized, Thomas said. 

Having the college develop to the south and meet up with private redevelopment synchronizes will allow the city to reap the economic benefits of an improved connection between the campus and downtown.

President Johnson also noted that the university is 4,000 students stronger than it was prior to the recession, and the college has grown its faculty as well. Growth over the past decade already led to private development of multiple student housing projects on the west side of Virginia Street next to the University between Interstate 80 and Lawlor Events Center, as well as to the north of the campus.

The parking garage also solves a decades-long problem about a lack of parking at the southern end of campus. Much of the available parking at UNR is located in the northern footprint of the campus — a long way from the buildings where many faculty, staff and students work or attend class, Johnson said.

Parking garage specialists Watry Design, Inc. of San Jose designed the Gateway Parking Complex. Clark/Sullivan will build the project under the Construction Manager at Risk construction delivery method. The 225,000-square-foot garage is expected to come online in fall of 2022.

Gateway District expansion plans

Jarrett Rosenau, president of Nevada operations for Clark/Sullivan, told the NNBW that although the land where the parking garage will be located is largely vacant now, the site is constrained by the freeway on the south side, and the site’s natural grading poses some excavation challenges to the north.

Excavation to form the parking garage’s structural footings is about 22 feet below current grade, Rosenau said.

“The project slopes downward quite a bit from 9th Street south toward the freeway,” he said. “It’s a sequenced (excavation) process so that we are safely excavating because when you get that kind of depth there are potential safety issues. The north end is very deep.”

Clark/Sullivan is also working with the college and NV Energy to ensure critical infrastructure is brought over from existing connections and placed in vaults to support the university’s future expansion plans in the Gateway District.

“We like to plan those things ahead so the university doesn’t incur an expense in the future,” Rosenau said.

If Clark/Sullivan is the low bidder under the CMAR process and self-performs the structural concrete work, it will come when most of its manpower will be freed up from work at the new Hug High School campus, Rosenau added.

With growth comes responsibility

The university is still seeking approval for a proposed skybridge to meet Americans With Disabilities requirements, since much of the grade along 9th Street is too steep. The skybridge would extend over 9th Street from the fourth floor of the parking structure and deliver pedestrians near Morrill Hall. Johnson said the main reason for the skybridge is to satisfy ADA compliance.

“By the time we have the whole project built out with potentially four buildings, there’s going to be a lot of traffic,” he said. “The question has been for some time how to get people to and from that low-lying area? The architects felt the most efficient solution would be a skybridge where anyone can go to the parking garage, take the elevator to the fourth floor, and cross at a very slight grade.”

The skybridge would keep traffic off 9th Street as that section of the campus grows and takes on its own identity, Johnson added.

Rosenau said that in addition to satisfying ADA requirements and increasing pedestrian safety, the skybridge and garage were designed to be extensions of the campus. Both buildings have brick facades that match existing campus architecture.

“The university is committed to making sure the historic nature of the university is represented in all new architecture and construction on campus, and they applied those tenements and focus the parking garage and pedestrian bridge,” Rosenau said.

Of note, the Reno City Council was scheduled July 22 to discuss laws surrounding city skywalks, after this story was written.

Looking ahead, though development of academic and ancillary buildings in the Gateway District is likely a long way off, the project fills the university’s need to expand and keep pace with the explosive business growth occurring throughout Northern Nevada.

“It’s important the university continues to provide the workforce for the huge industrial expansion in Northern Nevada,” Johnson said. “We need research and instructional facilities to grow. We’ve done a great amount of infill with dormitories, fitness centers, engineering and arts buildings. We just have to expand the campus footprint in order to support our expansion of students and research.

“At the same time, we want that expansion to be supportive of a pedestrian campus — it has to be close — and we have actively been reaching out to be a part of the development of Reno for a long time.”