$8.3M Dorms on Sage Street housing project hitting high gear Aug. 15 | nnbusinessview.com

$8.3M Dorms on Sage Street housing project hitting high gear Aug. 15

Rob Sabo
Special to the NNBV

The proposed layout for the Dorms on Sage Street housing project.

RENO, Nev. — The whirlwind Dorms on Sage Street housing project is nearing realization in just over six months from its inception.

On Aug. 15, nine semi-trucks will hit East Fourth Street to deliver the first units of a man camp that formerly housed gas and oil workers in central Wyoming. Over the next eight weeks, the fleet of trucks will make five additional trips to deliver the rest of the modular buildings that will add 200 low-income housing units at the corners of Fourth and Sage streets.

Despite the tagline of "dorms" on the project, each of the 90-square-foot rooms will be single-occupancy and will include a bed, closet, desk and flat screen television. Residents will use shared restrooms and a shared 4,000-quare-foot kitchen facility. Rents are projected to be $400 a month.

The buildings should be set up by the end of October, according to the plan, and Volunteers of America, which will manage the facility, will begin marketing the project and taking names for a waiting list for projected November occupancy.

In all, the project is expected to cost a total of $8.3 million.

A true public private partnership

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Dorms on Sage Street has been a true community-wide collaboration among regional developers, contractors and entities such as the city of Reno, Economic Development Authority of Western Nevada (EDAWN) and Volunteers of America.

It first got legs when local developers Par Tolles and Allison Gorelick floated the idea of purchasing the man camp to city of Reno Assistant City Manager Bill Thomas and Chris Askin, president and chief executive officer of Community Foundation of Western Nevada.

The city donated five acres of land at Sage Street for the project, which will also include a 4,000-square-foot recreation room; 6,000-square-foot office space; security fencing with card access; a 1,300-foot-long, 12-foot-high concrete sound barrier wall to dampen noise from the Union Pacific trains that run directly behind the site; landscaping; and 150 parking spots.

Residents will receive financial counseling and also can receive additional services such as help with employment and career skills, education and mental health counseling, with the goal of eventually securing long-term housing.

However, there's no cap on length of stay, Askin notes.

"This is an opportunity that has caught a lot of people's imagination," Askin adds. "It is very different than anything that has been done here. We also are talking with the city about moving forward on other properties that will take longer to develop but will require less charitable income to support and will use more traditional funding with longer lead times to increase housing stock that is affordable across the spectrum.

"Our goal is essentially to address a community need. Housing is just once facet. This is an opportunity to do something very significant in a short timeframe, and that means making a big impact in a short time frame."

Business community steps up

Part of the lightning-fast pace of development is tied to the need for the buildings to be removed from public lands in Wyoming.

"The timeline is somewhat being driven by the acquisition of the buildings," Askin says. "They needed to be moved, and it's much less expensive to move them directly to their final destination — the whole project saves a lot of money. We bought them at a very good price, they are in perfect condition, and we are bringing them directly to the site."

Cost for the man camp was $1.9 million, with the seller financing the purchase at 1 percent interest. It also cost an additional approximately $450,000 to disassemble, ship and reassemble the facility back in Reno.

In addition to the accelerated development timeline, another main challenge is constructing the facility on former railroad property. Underground storage tanks have been identified on the site, impacting contractors' ability to both dig foundations for the buildings and bury utilities underground. The buildings will sit on concrete slabs.

Askin says Summit Engineering and Pezonella Associates have helped getting the project through the planning and permitting process, and Q&D Construction and Helix Electric have done much of the heavy lifting getting the site prepared for building delivery.

Other local companies that have donated time or services include McGinley and Associates, Reno Engineering Corporation, Western Nevada Supply, Lifestyle Homes, Tolles Development Company, Gorelick Real Estate and Abbi Agency. Local businesses have donated in excess of $1 million in services, Askin said in a presentation to the Reno City Council in mid-July.

"It is unbelievable what is happening in this town," Askin says.

All that said, more funding is needed

Although the project already has received more than $1 million in outside funding, there's still an approximately $2.5 million shortfall to meet project requirements. Reno Mayor Hillary Schieve said in the same council meeting that the Sage Street Dorms project needs additional help from the community.

"This is the time," Schieve said. "We really have an opportunity to do something about affordable housing."

Should the $2.5 million not be raised, it would only potentially impact project setup, completion and operations, Askin said, as the buildings have been purchased and contracted to be delivered on the target date.

Tolles calls the Sage Street Dorms the most exciting project he's ever worked on.

"Everyone is talking about this problem (affordable housing), and people are trying to do something about it, but it is so daunting," Tolles says. "How do we move the needle on homelessness and transitional housing?

"You have this weird melting pot of people that don't always associate — you have the city of Reno, the unions, non-unions, private side, Volunteers of America, the Community Foundation. No one could do this without the other. It is the best community project I have ever worked on, and my hope is that we potentially crack the code on dormitory living.

"It's half the cost of affordable housing and may become a model for other cities. People want this to work, they want Reno to be the model, and our community wants people to get on their feet."