Long-awaited Fourth Street revitalization finally taking root
June 30, 2014
Reno's East Fourth Street finally has momentum on its side.
An eclectic group of thriving businesses have taken root. Neighborhood events like Positively Fourth Street are drawing visitors while bigger happenings are in the works. And the Regional Transportation Commission is in the midst of $52 million project in much-needed road and bikeway improvements and bus route expansion.
So, will it be enough to turn the long-neglected downtown district into a lasting hotspot?
"There's a bunch of good businessmen who are really motivated," says Mike Steedman, owner of the Studio on 4th, a bar and art venue 432 E. Fourth St., and a member of the City of Reno's Redevelopment Agency's Advisory Board.
Steedman is spearheading a group of the businesses now, and working with the Regional Alliance for Downtown, to promote the initial section of East Fourth as the city's brewery district in much the same way the center of town has successfully branded itself the Riverwalk.
Key to the plan is creating a guide map for visitors. So far there are two breweries — Under the Rose Brewing Co. at 559 E. Fourth St. and Pigeon Head Brewery at 840 E. Fifth St., under the Wells Avenue overpass, a block north of Fourth — and another coming in the fall, the Depot Craft Provisions Co. going in the historic railroad depot designed by Frederic DeLongchamps at 325 E. Fourth St.
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In addition, other Fourth Street nightspots, such as Steedman's Studio on 4th and the Lincoln Lounge at 306 E. Fourth St., act as tap houses for other local breweries, he says.
Jim Gibson, owner of the newly refurbished Morris Burner Hotel at 400 E. Fourth St., has an equally big idea for driving traffic to the district — a street festival in the days leading up to Burning Man, the massive cultural event held annually in nearby Black Rock Desert, that Gibson estimates could attract as many as 20,000 visitors to the city.
"A lot of people have an image of Burning Man as naked and drugged-out hippies, and there is some of that, but there's also million-dollar RVs and million-dollar pieces of art," says Gibson. "This phenomenon is 95 percent good and 5 percent bad and I think the city has come to realize it. It's bigger than bowling. It's the largest event the area has."
Gibson says it would take a year to plan, but in preliminary discussions with the Reno event permitting department, the city seemed to welcome it.
The city is generally supportive but could do more, say business owners.
Gibson says the long-vacant Alpine Glass Co. building across from his hotel, on the other side of Record Street, is a blighted eyesore that deters foot traffic.
"Most people walk down from Fourth Street Station," the RTC bus depot between Lake Street and Evans Avenue, says Gibson. "They walk to (the Alpine building) and turn around."
The City of Reno tries to police such businesses, sending citations to owners.
"Right now, we have a lot of open cases we're aggressively addressing downtown," says Alex Woodley, code enforcement manager, City of Reno.
Last week, a new building maintenance ordinance was read at the Reno City Council meeting and will go into effect after a second reading next month. The new ordinance requires downtown businesses to maintain legible signage, power wash dirty sidewalks, use extensive outdoor lighting and provide security for queues, such as those that form outside bars.
The ordinance applies to businesses in redevelopment district area 1 and in downtown police and maintenance special assessment districts and it's unclear whether businesses on East Fourth Street, which falls into RDA 2, will be required to comply.
"Keep in mind, the city may consider this for all of city, not just downtown," says Woodley.
Still, the enduring issue for business owners is the Community Assistance Centers, the homeless shelters on Record Street.
Chris Shanks, co-owner, Louis Basque Restaurant and the upcoming Depot brewery, would like to see some the city cut back on some of the construction fees for rehabilitation of the buildings along Fourth. And in his ideal world, the University of Nevada, Reno, would turn some of the dilapidated motels into new student housing.
"It's the 800-pound gorilla in the area," Shanks says, "but we're stuck with it."
Shanks and other business owners have ideas on how to ameliorate the shelters' effects, from making it a long-term facility or one for women and children only to turning the large lot behind it into a daytime park since the primary problem results from its clients wandering the streets during the day when the shelter turns them out.
"If that got some traction, I can commit that our burner community would come in and help build it," says Gibson. "And we're always looking for place to put our art."