Windows on the water
When architect Walter Estay was growing up in Reno three decades ago, nobody gave much thought to the Truckee River as it flowed through town.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at one point suggested running the river through a concrete channel. Land along the river drew dozens of industrial companies, most of which turned their backs to the water, treating it as little more than an alley.
“It was a ditch,” recalls Estay, a partner in Reno with Tate Snyder Kimsey Architects.
Today, however, Estay is part of the team designing two condo and commercial towers one 35 stories, the other 21 stories hugging the river near Lake Street. It’s one of the developments elbowing their way into position along the river.
From one end of Reno to the other, development that faces the river is clearly the big thing.
Residential projects are proposed or under development from Dickerson Road west of the downtown, through the core of Reno and east along the Reno Hilton property to the Greg Street bridge where the river flows into Sparks.
Without fail, windows in those condomini-ums and apartments provide big views of the river.
So what happened? Why is the Truckee River, once a ditch, today one of the hottest development amenities in the region?
Among those who’ve kept a close eye on redevelopment of the riverfront, there’s agreement on only one point: No single event set the wheels of change in motion.
But most agree that a key moment was the completion in 2003 of the $1.5 million whitewater course in Wingfield Park.
Funded in large measure by the Nevada Commission on Tourism to help create another draw for visitors, the whitewater course became a bigger draw for locals.
“It brought down families to the river to spend the day in ways they hadn’t before,” says Kristin Rossiter of the Reno Redevelopment Agency.
Even more important, Estay says, the whitewater course allowed residents to become engaged with the river put their hands into the water, splash around in ways that hadn’t been possible for decades.
(And that’s his biggest worry as development moves forward a worry that glassed-in developments along the river will discourage hands-on engagement with the flowing water.)
As Reno and Sparks residents came to the whitewater course, they began to become engaged with smaller projects that had been in development for the better part of a decade a $10 million riverwalk, the National Automobile Museum, the Riverside Artists Lofts, the retailers taking root along the river.
Estay, in fact, suggests that the public consciousness of the river’s possibilities might be traced back to the demolition of the Mapes Hotel in 2000.
In the heat of that controversy, he says, some residents began thinking about their hopes for downtown and how those hopes might come to reality.
Whatever the reason for the renewed focus on the river, it happened quickly after years of little-noticed planning efforts, says John Hester, the city’s director of community development.
“At some point, it’s almost like we declared victory on the river,” he says. “A lot of people realized that it’s a nice asset that other cities don’t have.”
Among those realizing the potential of the river was Thomas Schrade, the president and chief executive officer of Grand Sierra Resorts, the company that plans to buy and redevelop the Reno Hilton property.
The company’s plans call for 26 acres of residential condominiums with river access along the northeast edge of the property.
“The Truckee River hasn’t been used like this before,” Schrade says. “The Truckee River is a wonderful asset.”
And it’s a particularly important asset, he says, for out-of-town buyers of the condos who often cite access to water as a feature they highly desire in a resort at a second home.
But the development along the river can’t go much farther east from the Hilton property.
In Sparks, industrial neighborhoods along the river limit the possibility for residential and recreational uses, says Karen Melby, the city’s manager of current planning.
Even so, Sparks is moving ahead with plans for its own whitewater course at Rock Park. The course, currently under design, could be under construction as early as August, says Stan Sherer, the city’s director of parks and recreation.
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