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Facade Improvement Most Important Thing Council Can Do Right Now

9/12/09 - At the last Joint Redevelopment Agency and Reno City Council Meeting, after hearing John Hester's presentation on priority projects that should be put on the back burner, a discussion briefly ensued with the Board, with the majority of the discussion surrounding the post office and whitewater park extension. Hascheff and the Mayor did not like the idea of putting the whitewater park on the back burner.

The whitewater park extension is a $10 million project. I know of a much much less expensive project that could have twice the impact on downtown Reno...the Virginia Street Facade Improvement Program.

The Facade Improvement Program was supposedly a funded project, and I don't recall exactly the reason it became non-funded, but I think it had to do with bond markets not yielding the fundage originally anticipated. Whatever the reason was, after aligning the businesses on that block with an architect who spent a considerable amount of time speaking with both the lessees and owners to develop a concept and renderings, the at-least-$500,000 required for the project is not available.

That's puzzling to me, because according to a city staff report, not only is the Facade Improvement Program eligible for the Recovery Zone Bonds discussed at great length here, a payment source has been identified to pay down the bond, which is the Community Development Block Grant.

Check this out:

Here's a new bakery that opened downtown. Doesn't it have the most inviting facade you have ever seen? It says 'come in and buy some bread" yes? No. You can barely tell this business is anything other than the mini-mart that was formerly there. Now let's look at what the same building could look like with a little touch-up, based on city staff reports back when the Facade Improvement Program was a hot item.

If you were a tourist enjoying Hot August Nights or Art Town and were traveling from your downtown hotel to the riverwalk, which of the above buildings would you most likely wander into on your way down to the river?

I feel it's a mistake to put this project on the back burner simply because it's not funded. Perhaps the priority should be to find funding for it, particularly since it's a qualifying project for the Recovery Zone Bonds. As a commenter pointed out in a different blog, the and 100 and 200 blocks of Virginia Street are among the worst in the city. It's a vital corridor tourists walk up and down, it's the core of our city, and it's a sad reminder better days when the lights of bustling casinos lit up Virginia Street like a Christmas Tree.

The Street Beautification Program helped quite a bit, but the shuttered Woolworth's Building, the cavernous empty retail along the 100 Block, the Virginian, the Nevadan, the closed tourist shop just south of Beverly's, etc all overshadow the hard work done of widening the sidewalks and making Virginia Street beautiful. A large portion of the events in downtown Reno utilize Virginia Street, and thousands of tourists see the remnants of a bygone era, intermixed with liquor stores and souvenir shops with aluminum foil taped up on the upper windows of the building, or the fact that Harrah's refuses to remove that ugly ball left over from Planet Hollywood. Sorry Harrah's, it doesn't work for your Japanese Steakhouse, nor does it to that amazing restaurant justice.

Most residents I know don't really venture north of 1st Street unless they are catching a show at the Events Center, and most cite the condition of downtown north of 2nd Street as the reason why. I realize the city can't do 'everything' and that some programs have to be sacrificed to reflect the redevelopment agency's budget, But in the midst of talking about beautifying Virginia Street from Liberty to the Convention Center, and discussions of purchasing the Post Office, it's difficult to grasp the lack of interest in this project, or the lack of willpower on the part of the council to at least try to find funding for it. What about using the $500,000 that became available for the ReTRAC Enhancements project for the Facade Improvement program?

This not only extends to local residents, but tourists. There is a lot of talk about a new marketing campaign from the RSCVA coming up soon. But I wonder how much good it will do this tourist-oriented part of downtown when it looks like a hurricane from the 1960's hit it? You can't simply brush the mess under a doormat and then say 'ooh but look at our pretty riverwalk!' Tourists have to walk through that mess to get to the Riverwalk. It would be silly and short-sighted for me to think that downtown Reno is central to every marketing campaign for Reno and the region, nor that every one of the 5.1 million tourists that visited last year stepped foot in downtown...but it does play a large role.

This is why the revitalization of downtown is so important. Most of the special events for Reno are held downtown, or within walking distance of downtown, with the major exception being the Reno Air Races. But even those people most likely stay downtown. There are times walking around the Fitz area where I truly feel uncomfortable holding a $1200 camera taking pictures. And that's supposed to be the HEART of our city; The Arch, etc.

Now, honestly ask yourself...as a tourist...would downtown be your first pick to stay, or would the Atlantis or Peppermill, which recently poured $400,000,000 into a megarenovation, be more appealing? Or even GSR? And then simply visit downtown as a tourist stop rather than it be your central hub for checking out the rest of the city?

So, this facade improvement program is not only needed to help locals get reaquainted with some new businesses opening up shop on this block, but also to give tourists the message we care about this community, and want them to come back to downtown. Pleeeeeeease city council, find a way to make this a priority. Don't put it on the back burner.

Thoughts?

Comments:

Post your comments
Posted by: David - 9/13/2009 1:07:46 AM
I agree, especially on the ball above the steakhouse. I passed it just yesterday and I wondered about the odd juxtaposition. Improving facades downtown would be amazing.

Posted by: urbanblog - 9/13/2009 9:16:42 AM
Agreed. This could be some of the best money spent by the city, and for a lot of us when we think of "redevelopment" - this is it.

Posted by: Cynthia - 9/13/2009 10:26:18 AM
It is the worst street in town.

Posted by: B Cooper - 9/15/2009 4:35:56 PM
This may be the only part of our city many visitors see, and it's among the visually worst. No wonder many visitors say Reno is dirty and run-down. I'm ashamed when I see tourists walking around; what incentive would they have to return or give a positive report to their friends? If there is money available and it's not being used for facade improvement, that is evidence of extremely short-vision by our government 'leaders'.

Posted by: doofus - 9/15/2009 8:26:03 PM
Raymond's is worth dropping a quarter in a meter for. The bread is amazing, and the told me that they avoid the altitude / humidity problems of local sourdough by doing all their starter in the Bay Area. On the sad note, you get to decide which amputee camped out on each side of their storefront with Subway cups you want to throw your change to and make the prosthetic vs. stump choice. A new (and pretty cool) business takes the risk downtown, and this is the support they get from RPD? But Raymond's begs a point - why aren't the vacant NVA storefronts being utilized as more "incubator" retail spaces? Cheap rents for the entrepreneurs, so they can throw the pasta against the wall and see what sticks? But no vision from our vision folks, once again. Reno RDA has their focus radiating outward from 1st and NVA, but not a clue about looking inwards to the epicenter. But check out Raymond's! I guarantee them.

Posted by: doofus - 9/15/2009 8:27:48 PM
Raymond's is worth dropping a quarter in a meter for. The bread is amazing, and the told me that they avoid the altitude / humidity problems of local sourdough by doing all their starter in the Bay Area. On the sad note, you get to decide which amputee camped out on each side of their storefront with Subway cups you want to throw your change to and make the prosthetic vs. stump choice. A new (and pretty cool) business takes the risk downtown, and this is the support they get from RPD? But Raymond's begs a point - why aren't the vacant NVA storefronts being utilized as more "incubator" retail spaces? Cheap rents for the entrepreneurs, so they can throw the pasta against the wall and see what sticks? But no vision from our vision folks, once again. Reno RDA has their focus radiating outward from 1st and NVA, but not a clue about looking inwards to the epicenter. But check out Raymond's! I guarantee them.

Posted by: PatF - 9/19/2009 7:58:37 AM
Mr. Doofus' comments on Raymonds are almost all right on. My wife and I like their product,have bought several loaves of broad and intend to purchase many more. We applaud the risk taken by this entrepreneureal venture. What a breath of fresh air after walking past the tattoo parlors, liquor stores and pawnshops that pervade those two blocks of Virginia St. But you missed the mark by blaming Reno PD for the panhandlers presence out front. I personally watched an employee or the manager of Raymonds bring out a sandwich and give it to one of the wheelchair bound men. Is that all bad? Of course not and it shows a kind heart. But expect the word to spread on this generosity and watch the number of panhandlers increase. Reno has a new panhandling ordinance that gives the PD a small tool with which to work, and they have made some arrests or written citations for aggressive panhandling. In one case wheelchair bound panhandlers were observed "shifting", several persons taking turns using the same location and wheelchair. The ordinance states that solicitions (panhandling) shall not be made within 15 feet of any door or driveway within a commercial or industrial zone. So if Raymands Sourdough has a problem with panhandlers at the door they can politely ask them to leave and if the refuse or return call the police. Alternatives exist to helping the homeless. Contribute to the social agencies who provide resources rather than give directly to the street people.

Posted by: Mark D - 9/19/2009 3:34:01 PM
I agree with the comments from doofus. I picked up some great sourdough from Raymond's on Thursday morning (the loaf was still warm!). Unfortunately I saw four disabled panhandlers in their wheelchairs with money cups nearly evenly spaced from the trench plaza/arch to Raymond's and the Little Nugget. It looked more like an organized effort rather than the random beggar looking for a few bucks, and apparently they are present on a regular basis. As much as I feel bad about the four men who lost their legs, their presence likely discourages many people from walking in this portion of downtown. If the city doesn't revive this facade plan, it may be a good idea for Harrah's to chip in since they're across the street from the blighted areas and their business could improve if the storefronts adjacent to them are more attractive. However, until reconstruction on the Fitz really gets going, and more effort is made to clean up this area and remove the panhandlers, this block of Virginia St. will struggle for a while.

 

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