Most Midtown Reno businesses optimistic amid Virginia Street construction
Go to bit.ly/2y20FZE to learn more about the Virginia Street Bus RAPID Transit Extension Project.
RENO, Nev. — An $80 million project that will beautify Virginia Street in Midtown, repave and reconfigure the road, and extend bus transit from the University of Nevada, Reno to Midtown kicked off this fall. And despite the inconvenience of construction, most business owners say the impact has been minimal.
After years of public comment and environmental review, the Regional Transportation Commission (RTC) of Washoe County began work on Sept. 4 on what the agency is calling the Virginia Street Bus RAPID Transit Extension Project. The project is in its first phase, which includes burying the utilities and removing poles obstructing sidewalks between Liberty Street and Plumb Lane, and will continue until February 2019.
The second phase of the project will begin in June 2019. Sierra Nevada Construction (SNC), the contractor for the project, will widen sidewalks to be compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, landscape with more than 300 trees, repave the roadway, remove the center turn lane, put in a raised median, add in roundabouts and left turn lanes at key intersections, and construct five bus stations.
Improvements will also be made on North Virginia between Maple Street and the northern terminus of RTC’s bus service.
“This is one of the oldest roads in Reno and some of the oldest infrastructure in Reno,” Jeff Wilbrecht, RTC deputy project manager, told the NNBV. “A lot of what we are doing is replacing, repairing and upgrading very old, aging infrastructure. This is also a massive utility project that is investing in Midtown’s future.”
The project, which is funded by fuel tax revenue and federal and private funds, is expected to wrap up in 2020.
Traffic has been reduced to one southbound lane while the utilities are being buried. Northbound drivers have the option to detour on Plumas and Center streets and Wells and Holcomb avenues. And while some street parking is lost during the woek, SNC has helped compensate for the loss by creating temporary angled parking.
“We haven’t seen too big of a change,” said Kayla Sisson, owner of JoStella Coffee at the corner of Virginia Street and St. Lawrence Avenue. “They took away the parking that was in front of us, but then they made parking spots so it’s pretty doable for us.”
“Parking is a bit of a problem, but there is nothing we can do about it and no reason to complain,” added Rudy Medina, owner of Michael’s Deli.
Prior to beginning construction, SNC and RTC crafted a robust program to support the businesses impacted by the construction. They are hosting monthly special events in Midtown, investing in advertising to support the district, providing business workshops, and patronizing businesses for meals, supplies and gift cards for giveaways.
SNC also arranged a partnership with Lyft to encourage people to come to Midtown. The rideshare company will provide 50 percent discounts (up to $10 off) on rides from anywhere outside of Midtown to any location within the current construction zone.
“While there is concern regarding the impact that the Virginia Street Bus RAPID Transit Extension Project will have on the businesses in Midtown, we are choosing to approach the project with optimism and creativity,” noted Craig Parish, vice president of the Midtown District Board. “It is a needed project that will better serve the future needs of Midtown for years to come.”
Parish said the board continues to work closely with the RTC and SNC to make sure all businesses are heard over the course of the project.
“They have been great partners with the District wanting Midtown to succeed as much as anyone else, which it part of the reason why millions of dollars are being invested in the neighborhood,” added Parish.
But not all Midtown business owners are on board with the project.
“We’re down,” said Roy Brennan, owner of Beefy’s, a hamburger restaurant at the corner of Virginia and Arroyo streets, when asked how sales are going. “Some days I’m down 25 percent, other days we’re normal and good. I think that there’s been so much press about this that the customers have known that they can still come.”
But mostly, he just doesn’t believe the project is necessary.
“The street’s a disaster and it needs to be repaved, but they are going overboard,” said Brennan. “Too much ‘foofoo’ when it really doesn’t need it. We don’t need medians and all these new fancy bus stops. That’s not going to help businesses.”
The cuts would come as a direct result of reduced tax collections caused by business closures across the Silver State due to the COVID-19 pandemic.