One East Liberty repositioned as heart of downtown
Blake Smith says the office building his investment group is repositioning at One East Liberty is located at the corner of Main and Main — the heart of downtown Reno.
The group’s task for the better part of a year has been reworking the 98,322-square-foot, six-story building that it bought from U.S. Bank into a landmark worthy of its location at the corner of South Virginia and Liberty streets.
“The vision is to soften it, to make it into a gathering place,” says Smith.
A key piece of the softening will come to reality this summer with construction of about 1,800-square-feet of drive-through restaurant space facing South Virginia Street between the U.S. Bank Building and Ryland Street, which borders the property to the north.
Along with the restaurant will come an outdoor plaza that Smith envisions as a buzzy gathering place where downtown workers and visitors enjoy a snack, soak up some sun and watch the growing pedestrian traffic that’s accompanying the resurgence of downtown Reno.
“It will become an amenity to the building,” Smith says.
But little has come easy.
Development of the drive-through, for instance, required a big change in vehicle access and traffic flow through property — and about $100,000 in professional services.
The work was complicated, Smith says, because a key element of his group’s plan for the building called for removal of two drive-through windows from the bank — who uses drive-through banks anymore? — to allow for construction of additional retail and office space on its ground floor.
Along with the new plaza and retail space along Virginia Street, the investment group plans an exterior facelift — one that will restore the building’s glory years as the headquarters of Security Bank in the late 1970s.
For all the exterior improvements that pedestrians and motorists will see, a big share of the $2.5 million that Smith’s group is investing in the building reflects more mundane concerns such as heating and ventilation.
Oil-burning furnaces installed when the building was constructed in 1974 were replaced with a natural-gas system. The new owners invested heavily in a software system that essentially turns the entire structure into a smart building that pays attention to outside weather conditions and anticipates the heating and cooling needs of individual office users throughout the building.
“We’re bringing it into the 21st century,” says Smith. “We’re spending $775,000 that no one will ever see.”
The building’s owners, however, expect to see the effects the HVAC work each month. The technology, Smith says, will whack about 40 percent off the operating costs of 1 East Liberty.
The investments in energy efficiency, gathering places and rejuvenated exteriors won’t amount to much unless the new owners can fill the building. It was just barely over half full when it was acquired in late April of 2013, and occupancy now has climbed to about 70 percent.
A big chunk of the building’s vacant space disappeared last autumn when Pacific Business Centers, a Palo Alto-based provider of on-demand office space, leased the entire, 13,000-square-foot sixth floor.
The office team of NAI Alliance, which is handling the leasing, has been waiting for completion of renovation work, particularly on the building’s exterior, before it begins a full-scale marketing push
“Marketing is so visual,” says Dominic Brunetti, a senior vice president and principal with NAI Alliance. “The changes that they are making will impact the brand of the building.”
The marketing effort, Brunetti says, will focus on two audiences:
Local companies that are growing, need more space and want an office experience that’s new to the market.
Out-of-state companies, particularly from the Bay Area, that want assurances that a move to take advantage of Nevada’s business environment won’t require them to move to lower-quality space.
Spaces as large as 14,000 square feet are available for lease.
Brunetti says the marketing team at NAI was involved in the project early on, helping the purchasers shape a strategy to reposition the building.
“It was a team-oriented escrow” he says.
Smith, whose long career in northern Nevada real estate includes work as general partner of Somersett, says he was looking for a commercial project in northern Nevada, and he was struck by the developing vibe of downtown Reno.
“I really, really like downtown right now,” he says, noting that residential, office, retail and restaurant options all are coming together in the central business district.
“There’s a momentum that’s swinging back to the core,” he says.
From a national standpoint, research shows the embrace of digital commerce is a whole decade ahead of schedule thanks to the pandemic. We spoke with the Retail Association of Nevada, Downtown Reno Partnership and the Reno+Sparks Chamber of Commerce to give local context to the growth of online retail.