‘The Biggest Little City’ has sure grown up in recent years
Special to the NNBV
RENO, Nev. — Reno has come a long way from its humble roots.
Gold and silver are the sparks that birthed Reno. When gold was discovered at Sutter’s Mill near Sacramento in 1848 it ignited the California Gold Rush. Reno was a favored crossing point of the Truckee River for pioneers headed west.
In 1859, the discovery of the famed Comstock Lode at Virginia City in the foothills southeast of Reno further fueled the fledgling city’s expansion into a hub for mining and agriculture.
Reno was officially established in the year 1868. Four things helped put Reno on the national map in the ensuing decades. The transcontinental railroad reached Reno in 1874, and the University of Nevada was founded a year later.
In the early 1900s, Reno became known as the divorce capital of the world — more than 30,000 divorces were certified at the Washoe County Courthouse from 1930 to 1940. And of course, the state legalized gambling in 1931.
While the glow from Reno’s downtown casinos doesn’t provide the same tourism allure and economic impact as it did before northern California’s Native American tribes began building lavish gaming establishments, the casino strip still is an undeniable part of both Reno’s history and its future.
But the new Reno is much more than just gaming.
Renovation sparks Reno’s transformation
Nowhere is the new Reno more evident than the flourishing Midtown District, which stretches south from California Avenue to the corners of Plumb Lane and Virginia Street. Once home to downtrodden motels, bars and other businesses, the Midtown District has become a favorite gathering place for both newcomers and longtime Reno residents.
Local businesspeople have invested millions to transform a slew of dilapidated and outdated buildings into urban chic bars, restaurants, breweries and boutique shopping establishments.
Downtown Reno also has undergone an extensive facelift. Several shuttered casinos were transformed into modern condominium towers surrounding the wonderful Riverwalk District along the Truckee River. Downtown Reno continues to draw its share of residents to experience a variety of amenities.
Phil DeLone, president and chief executive officer of the Reno Sparks Convention and Visitors Authority, says the Reno experience today is vastly different than in past years.
“We have a revitalized downtown and revitalized Midtown District with new cafes, art galleries, shopping, wonderful boutique restaurants and great microbreweries and bars,” DeLone says. “All of that is centered around the Truckee River, and it has been a boon not only for tourists visiting our destination but it’s also become a magnet for residents to get out and enjoy the heart of the city.”
Over the past half-decade, Reno has experienced a tremendous upswing in population, business, culture and many other key areas. It’s no secret Reno is one of the country’s most vibrant and thriving communities.
Mike Kazmierski, president and chief executive officer of the Economic Development Authority of Western Nevada, says that many national site selectors have said Reno’s rapid growth over the past five years is unprecedented across the country.
“The kind of growth we are seeing, cities don’t usually experience in 20 years,” Kazmierski says.
We doing it in five. Having such great economic change in such a short period of time is very rare.”
Hillary Schieve, who became Reno’s mayor in 2014, says Reno has succeeding in emerging from the devastating national recession because of a concerted focus on diversifying northern Nevada’s economy. At the same time, however, there’s also been an increased push to diversify the city’s cultural attractions.
“From Burning Man installations to our famous “Space Whale” in the plaza, we’re committed to making a more beautiful city,” Schieve says. “The Generator and the maker community have a special place in Reno too. Encouraging artistic exploration is this generation’s gold and silver rush: Untapped potential right here in the heart of the city.”
Reno residents enjoy a wealth of attractions in the Truckee Meadows, including famed special events such as the Reno Rodeo, Hot August Nights, Nugget Rib Cook-off, Reno Championship Air Races and the Great Reno Balloon Race at Rancho San Rafael Regional Park. Other popular attractions and events include Artown, the Terry Lee Wells Nevada Discovery Museum, National Automobile Museum, Nevada Museum of Art, Pioneer Center for the Performing Arts and Fleischmann Planetarium at the University of Nevada, Reno.
Reno also is home to two professional sports teams. The city’s professional soccer team, Reno 1868 FC of the United Soccer League, was founded in 2017 and is named for Reno’s rich history. The Reno Aces, the Pacific Coast League Triple-A affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks, began play in Reno in 2009. Both organizations host games at Greater Nevada Field, one of the finest minor-league ballparks and stadiums in America.
No community can succeed without engaged residents. To that end, Mayor Schieve says it’s important newcomers to the region stay aware and engaged.
“Check out our city council meetings. Look into joining a Neighborhood Advisory Board. Be curious about different parts of town you haven’t been to,” she says. “Try a new restaurant or a small business. Get outside your comfort level and see everything we have to offer.”
Rob Sabo is a Reno-based freelance writer and former reporter for the Northern Nevada Business View.
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.