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Calling all retail

Pat Patera

Projects abound for downtown Reno, and retail lies at the base of most plans.

A few days ago, the city announced plans to buy the historic post office fronting the Truckee River. The plan is to turn it into shops.

And that’s also the plan for the downtown plaza, the former Mapes Hotel site owned by the city.

Ditto for the ground floors of the many condo projects in progress. And for the proposed ReTRAC train trench cover.

Owners of long shuttered big spaces that once housed department store JC Penney and Woolworth’s are seeking to sign retail tenants.

Even the planned baseball stadium on the east edge of downtown is viewed as an anchor for retail.

Meanwhile, merchants in existing downtown storefronts come and go.

And when it comes to specifics on what retailers want to get in on the ground floor of Reno redevelopment, no one’s naming names.

Kristin Rossiter, economic development manager in the city’s redevelopment authority, says the process will be incremental, as completion of the various projects will be staggered.

As population increases incrementally, it will support restaurants and drop-off locations for dry cleaners, she says.

“Already there’s a strong employment base downtown, a daytime population of workers for the city, the county, and St. Mary’s employees,” Rossiter says. “Plus a strong visitor component. Whether here for business or entertainment, they also are looking for retail, opportunities to shop for the day.”

The tourist dollar is key.

“Downtown really needs retail,” says Brian Bonnenfant, GIS program manager, geographic information services, bureau of business and economic research, small business development center, University of Nevada, Reno.

As proof, he points to the Walgreen’s drug store built over Interstate 80 and says the company names it one of its biggest sales generators in the region.

Look beyond the condo dwellers, who might number a mere 2,000, says Bonnenfant. “The demographics this retail would serve are visitors.”

Some 4 million a year come through downtown at last count.

Developers are calling for UNR researchers to get demographics, he says, but what they most want to know is: What are the other projects on the books right now?

Land prices are the draw for developers.

“Prices may be cheaper than south Reno, which was the big hit for a while,” says Bonnenfant. “Now south Reno is oversaturated.”

“Some years ago,” he says, “Downtown development was interested in mom-and-pops because the big developers were getting the corporate companies.”

Now those developers eye the whole downtown development pie visitors, special events, bowling stadium, baseball park, and the university. All of it combined is creating a big interest in downtown, he says.

But they’re not interested in independent retailers.

“If you’re a developer, you know corporate tenants are more likely to stick with the lease,” he says. “You’ve got to have the brand name to anchor a significant project of over 100,000 square feet.

Commercial brokers are connected with the corporate chains. For a long time, they completely ignored downtown. Now they’re showing downtown spaces.”

That wasn’t possible, he adds, before the city redevelopment team stepped in to purchase and assemble disparate pieces of land, a task beyond the patience of commercial developers.

The city, meanwhile, has been showing downtown Reno as a big-picture property. Rossiter points to a series of 35 “Discover It” tours that have shown around community leaders, media and news crews, real estate associations, and the visiting National League of Cities.

Meanwhile a former anchor of the arts district, LaBussola, is coming back.

Store owner Meredith Tanzer pulled out when her rent spiked; but less than a year later has returned to colonize the storefront directly across the street from her old digs, since vacated by the kayak shop. Her former location remains vacant.

“We got calls from a variety of centers saying, ‘We want you here,'” says Tanzer. “We understand we’re a pull.”


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