Reno developer sets plans for former bank building |

Reno developer sets plans for former bank building

Rob Sabo

As a teen, Blake Smith opened one of his first savings accounts at the former First National Bank of Nevada at 1401 S. Virginia Street.

Decades later, Smith purchased the building — most recently the headquarters of Heritage Bank — and plans on renovating and rebranding the property to create a southern anchor for the budding Midtown District.

“I know this building very well,” he says. “This where I would come and make my deposits and ride my bike down here to watch the account grow.”

Smith purchased the U.S. Bank Building at 1 E. Liberty Street 14 months ago and is finishing up $3 million in renovation work to modernize it. He’d long had his sights set on a redevelopment opportunity in the Midtown corridor, but he had been unsuccessful in several previous bids on properties. When Heritage Bank moved its headquarters farther south on Virginia Street last year, Smith called the management at Heritage Bank and paid the bank’s full asking price of $1.1 million for the property. Renovation work is expected to cost an additional $2 million to $3 million.

The 9,000-square-foot Heritage Bank building with its bland stucco exterior looks nothing like it did when it was constructed in 1956. The building is constructed entirely of brick, and Smith plans on stripping the exterior stucco and interior sheetrock to re-expose the original architecture.

“You have a pretty lady with a dress that doesn’t fit her,” he says.

The plan for the site is to split the existing building lengthwise into three to four restaurant/retail concepts and brand the center The Cov. Smith plans to add 2,500 to 5,000 square feet of new space on the south side of the building and keep one of the drive-through lanes from the former bank. The back of the bank building would be developed into about 3,000 square feet of office space for small entrepreneurial startups.

“We have four local tenants who are speaking to us now,” Smith says. “We want to make sure they mix and match together.

“If you look at Midtown and all its entertainment, food and bars, it’s all loaded up by downtown,” he adds. “That works because there are 1.7 million square feet of offices within walking distance. They have a captive audience. I’m trying to take this building and make it the southern anchor of Midtown.”

Smith quashed rumors that McDonalds is one of the prospective tenants at The Cov.

Smith also plans to add between 20 and 30 lofts and one-bedroom residential units behind the old bank building to create a live/work environment. The entire parcel comprises about one acre. M2 Construction, headed by longtime northern Nevada homebuilders Troy and Travis Means, is general contractor on the project. Angela Bigotti of Van Woert Bigotti Architects is designing The Cov concept. Demolition work started last week.

Smith has undertaken numerous retail, residential and warehouse projects in northern Nevada for the past 20 years, but his biggest project is spearheading development of Somersett in west Reno.

“We have always tried to buy something and add value and make it better for northern Nevada,” Smith says. “This one, we can not only modernize the old, but we can add something new with the residential component. This is a fun project for us and one we really want to have fit into the neighborhood.”