Siegel Group will be asking for a lease of a small portion of West Street Plaza so they can change the elevation of it and open up the east side of the building that's currently unaccessible.
They went before the Redevelopment Agency Advisory Board last Tuesday, which was much more relaxed of a meeting than their previous appearances here. I heard they weren't so lucky at the RAD (Regional Alliance for Downtown) meeting.
Siegel is requesting to lease the land, which is the option the council was semi-comfortable with when it was previously presented to them. Though they asked for a 50 year lease, the RAAB Board on Tuesday recommended a 20 year lease with two 10-year options to extend. There were protections for both sides built in, for instance if Siegel abandons the project before it’s done, there will be a bond set aside for the City of Reno to complete the work on their own. If the terms are approved, Siegel will install a video camera for security, agrees not to infringe upon the first amendment rights of those using the public plaza, agrees to put in landscaping in the whole area, must start the work 180 days from when the term sheet is adopted, and so on. Siegel isn’t asking for a deal, or tax increment financing, they will lease the land at a market-rate based on a newly completed appraisal of the land up for grabs in the lease.
Notably absent were members of RAD, the Regional Alliance for Downtown, a consortium of business owners downtown including the tri-property hotel-casinos. RAD has been very vocal, very upfront, and very consistent in their opposition of Siegel Group, and what they refer to as the ‘Siegel Suites Model.’
Siegel Group’s first major purchase in Reno, the Senator Hotel on 2nd and West Street, went fairly unnoticed. The Truckee Lane Building, however, was a different situation entirely. The tenants at the time were embroiled in lease renewal battles with the owner of the building that became very public, with tenants worried it might be the end for all them, including downtown staple Java Jungle.
Siegel Group, pretty unknown in Reno at the time, swooped in, bought the building, successfully renegotiated the commercial tenant leases, and everyone for the time being were happy campers. Java Jungle and Jungle Vino eventually became The Jungle.
Just a few months later, it was announced they bought the Virginian, with no plans announced for it for quite a while. Siegel Group at the time was generally well-thought of in the community.
Then they bought the El Cortez in the summer of 2014, then the Nevadan Tower in 2015.
About a year later, they released plans, renderings, their grand vision of the Truckee Lane Building as a live-work center, with upgraded apartments.
The negative press for Siegel started when city officials received a phone call about a spike in problems and crime surrounding their Sparks property, and local media and city officials learning of the less-than-stellar reviews of their Las Vegas properties.
They also began replacing the windows in the El Cortez without getting the proper permits or going through the correct channels, which caused a bit of an uproar in the historical-centric community.
Then when it was realized their plans for the Virginian involved converting it to a 'Siegel Suites' model, the Regional Alliance for Downtown and local bloggers came down hard on Siegel. This is based on the concern Siegel is really doing nothing but building glorified weekly motels downtown, which goes against the mission and goals of the Regional Alliance for Downtown and other stakeholders. I had concerns too, and I still do. But....
Though they are moving at a snail's pace, Siegel Group is slowly but surely upgrading their properties.
Here's my take on Siegel Group. They came into this town, not quite knowing how our local processes worked, and how local govt worked, or how passionate Reno citizens are about historical buildings, compared to Siegel's home turf of Las Vegas, and as a result, made a few major errors and bumps along the way, and had to make some major course corrections.
This included working with the HRC on El Cortez's new facade and business signs, of which the business tenants themselves were involved with the design.
Speaking of the El Cortez, the interior renovations are mostly complete, and the rooms now have new carpet, new baths/showers, new toilets, new furniture, new electrical and plumbing, new flat screen tvs...and aside from not having full kitchens, aren't bad for the price. They actually look really nice, compared to the state the rooms were in when I last were in them during the first Nada Dada Motel. It's the fact that they are working with the HRC, that the exterior facade improvements have been taking so long to get rolling.
Also, business owners in the El Cortez tell me the vibe there has improved dramatically, and the clientele renting the rooms has changed for the better.
While Siegel Group hasn't exactly done everything right, they are proving with the El Cortez that they do actually improve buildings, though having to make several course corrections through the Historical Resources Commission. While I still wish the Virginian units would have full kitchens, at least they're putting in some kind of cooking apparatus and mini kitchenettes. Their newly renovated rooms are renting for the same monthly equivalent as some of the seediest weekly motels downtown, which by the way are raising their rates as well. While not completely ideal, it's also the only decent new or recently renovated product for under $800 a month downtown. They do background checks as well.
I support leasing them the over-grown, weedy piece of land shown below with the terms that the RAAB recommends, which is a 20-year lease at market-rate with two 10-year options to renew. The renovation of this building has been held up because of this one piece for nearly a year now.