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What’s Up Downtown: Reno City Center can catalyze reinvention (voices)

Alex Stettinski

Special to the NNBW

Alex Stettinski is executive director for the Downtown Reno Partnership.
Courtesy photo

RENO, Nev. — The sale and subsequent renovation of the Harrah’s Reno will become a significant catalyst for changing the life and culture of downtown Reno when it becomes the Reno City Center. Here’s how.

CAI Investments, headed by Chris Beavor, bought the Harrah’s property over the 2019 holiday with plans to convert it to Reno City Center.

Beavor, whose roots are in Reno, plans to remodel the entire property — down to the beams and back — from 930 hotel rooms into 530 market-rate apartments, 150,000 square feet of new office space and 78,500 square feet of retail. Plans may also include a hotel depending on market demand. 

CAI will use the Opportunity Zone funding for the project, which will require a strict timeline for completion.

Earlier this year, CAI Investments released a rendering of the Reno City Center, which would eventually replace Harrah’s.
Courtesy: CAI Investments

CAI Investments also plans to convert the Harrah’s Pavilion on Virginia Street into an open-air green space park to be enjoyed by apartment residents and the public. This park would eliminate the fence around the property, opening that walled garden to the community.

CAI Investments routinely works with large retailers like Whole Foods, Home Depot, Gap, Pottery Barn and any other well-known chain restaurant and business you can think of. In a matter of few years, one of the largest single properties in downtown could be home to 1,000 new residents and employees.

Beavor told us there is a line of retailers ready to move into downtown Reno when the density hits critical mass. He said the Reno City Center is falling in line with several thousand other planned units in the area: Keystone Commons apartments, Canyon Flats student housing, 661 Lake Street apartments student and standard apartments, Ridge Street Apartments and others in the planning stage, such as T3 office and condo tower and the P3 Partners’ sports complex.

“It takes a village,” Beavor said. It’s something we say a lot here at the Downtown Reno Partnership. CAI Investments’ success is predicated on the success of many other people working toward the same goal in downtown.

Beavor’s other project, the currently unnamed boutique hotel on Court Street overlooking the Truckee River, also presents a new opportunity to shift the tide. This project should also include office space and retail, he said. The hotel would offer 260 hotel rooms for our conventions and large-scale events.

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The boutique hotel would also help trade off the loss of Harrah’s 930 rooms. The room taxes lost by the Harrah’s less-than-$100 per night rooms can be picked up by the higher-priced hotel rooms in the new hotel, Beavor said.

And this location will draw tourists toward our natural resource, Riverwalk district and museums; offering a different view of Reno for visitors looking for recreation, outdoors and culture. For example, Beavor said they’d like to go after a fly fisherman’s convention that is usually held in Montana.

“Just imagine people could go to the convention then come downstairs and fly fish in the Truckee River,” he said.

When the downtown area reaches 20,000 people in a one-mile radius, that’s when the big players start to move in, Beavor said. We’re only 4,000 people away. The announcement that THE ROW is hiring 100 additional employees, some from Harrah’s, continues to show investment in our core. Meanwhile, Sands Casino owner, Jacobs Entertainment, is also investing almost $250 million into renovating that property.

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What’s more exciting than the main Reno City Center project and current planned projects, is the number of supporting business that will be drawn to downtown to support midday life for all these new residents and workers. The Riverwalk and West Street Plaza already do a great job of supporting lunch time, but soon we’ll need the kind of businesses that supports daily residents.

Hint: Like maybe a grocery store. 

We know Montage Residents have been saying it for years, but we also know that grocery stores are one of the last businesses to move into a burgeoning neighborhood.

They are the true indicator of redevelopment progress because they are low margin, high volume businesses that require high density and upper middle-class incomes to survive. If even an urban-sized Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s moves into Reno City Center, we will all have a hard time keeping up with the new economic wave in downtown.

So, when Harrah’s closes this summer after the final purchasing agreements, we’ll have a front row seat to one of the largest renovation projects in recent years. In fact, only those who remember The Montage’s conversion from the Golden Phoenix will recognize the process. In the coming two-year construction period, we will see at least three other projects come to life and several others break ground; a hearty welcome for the newcomers.

Our role here at the Downtown Reno Partnership is to continue making downtown more approachable. Just today a City of Reno code enforcer told us downtown is the cleanest she’s ever seen it. Yesterday a developer interested in building near Sparks told us he was excited by all the movement in downtown and opportunity for investment, if the demand keeps up. 

“Oh,” we told him, “The demand is going to be there for a while. The question is, can you keep up?”

“What’s Up Downtown” is a recurring Voices column in the NNBW authored by Alex Stettinski, executive director of the Downtown Reno Partnership. Reach him for comment at astettinski@downtownreno.org.