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The Urban Land Institute (ULI) advised the City of Reno to “think differently” about the Virginia Street Corridor at a public meeting held Friday, April 8 at the Atlantis Casino Resort Spa.
The city spent $125,000 for the ULI panelists who were tasked with providing candid advise to the City of Reno regarding the land use and economic development potential of the Virginia Street Corridor. They examined the corridor from McCarran Street, north of the University of Nevada, Reno to the Convention Center just south of Peckham Lane. The panelists spent several days touring the Reno area, meeting with city leaders and conducting 90 interviews in preparation for their panel presentation.
The purpose of the panel’s recommendations is “to provide candid feedback so you can make a great city an even greater city,” Tom Murphy, former mayor of Pittsburgh, Pa. and chair of the ULI panel, said at the event.
The panel stressed the importance of making Virginia Street distinct from other streets and roads. Throughout the presentation, they emphasized the increase of street trees, green spaces and making the river more accessible as Reno continues to grow.
“Reno is on the cusp of dramatic change,” ULI panel member Walt Bialas said.
The panel said that as Tesla and Switch continue to settle into the Tahoe-Reno Industrial Center and other companies look to settle in northern Nevada, the area will have to remain competitive with other cities around the country that are also trying to recruit these companies.
According to the panel, northern Nevada needs to focus on retaining and attracting talent in the area and promoting Reno’s outdoor lifestyle.
“Work-life balance is important to Millennials,” Panelist Kathleen Cecilian said.
Cecilian commended Reno on Artown and told the City to do more art and culture events. She also recommended amplifying Burning Man by holding a SXSW style event in Reno the week before the annual event.
She stressed the importance of promoting the quality of life that Reno and northern Nevada has to offer to help draw people to the region. However, she cautioned against the city trying to become something that it is not.
“Keep Reno authentic so your roots are authentic,” Cecilian said.
ULI broke up their recommendations for the Virginia Street Corridor into seven sub-districts starting at the University of Nevada, Reno (UNR) and ending at the Convention Center.
The panel started their recommendations with the university and endorsed UNR’s master plan to expand into downtown. They recommended that the historic houses on Center Street be moved only if part of a bigger vision for the university is to extend into downtown. Panelist Todd Meyer also encouraged the city not to see I-80 as a mental barrier.
The best thing is for the city and UNR to grow together, said Meyer.
Meyer pointed out that the space on the “lid” of I-80 where a Walgreens currently stands would be a good place for a welcome center.
The panel also recommended making Center Street a two-way street, lining it with shade trees and making it more pedestrian and bike oriented.
“Make it be a place everyone wants to spend time,” ULI panelist Dan Anderton said.
The new bridge and city plaza, which opened to the public April 12, are a good start for the revitalization of Virginia Street, the panel said. They also recommended making the river more accessible and adding more restaurants like the Wild River Grille.
Continuing down Virginia Street, they recommended moving the Wild Orchid to another location off of Virginia Street.
During the course of their interviews, the panel said they received positive feedback on the MidTown District and they hope that the trend continues.
ULI recommended revitalizing Park Lane Mall into a mixed-use development of apartments, retail, parking and green space. Reno Urban Developers LLC has announced that they have entered into escrow to buy the property and plan to redevelop the area into a multi-use property.
The panel also encouraged more commercial development by the Convention Center.
“Successful organizations really align with their vision,” panel member Lucia Garsys said. “Reno needs to align with its vision.”
The panel members challenged Reno citizens to give Reno’s public officials room to lead. They also advised the City of Reno to create a city economic development department, to empower the planning department and to restructure the Reno Redevelopment Agency.
“It is all about intentions,” Murphy said. “You can make (Reno) a mediocre city or (Reno) can be a great city.”
Urban Land Institute was founded in 1936. The organization provides independent advice on land use and real estate issues in various cities throughout the United States. ULI will have their full report for the City of Reno completed in about a month.
Heather Ashbridge, who started with Nevada State Development Corporation in 2008, previously served in several roles with the organization, including assistant vice president and loan officer. She is based in NSDC’s Reno office.