Developing the Biggest Little City
As northern Nevada’s economy continues to grow, it calls to question if it is getting harder to find land to develop.
“The issue may not be is there or is there not land,” Aric Jensen, director of community development for the City of Reno said. “It is an issue of how readily available is the land to develop.”
He explained that there are multiple factors that extend past just finding vacant developable land. These include the cost of land, environmental factors, if the owners want to sell, if there are problems with the estate, if it make sense tax wise, etc.
“There may be folks out there who have land that may be absolutely prime for development but the owners just aren’t ready to sell,” Jensen said.
All the studies show that the Reno economy is going to continue to get better with the new companies that are settling into Tahoe Reno Industrial Center and northern Nevada, Jensen said. Coming out of the recession, there are people who land bank property that could be developed. Some investors bought high and property values may not have recuperated enough to the point where they can get a return on their investment or there are also people who bought at low prices and are waiting for the market to come up further, he explained.
The City of Reno has identified downtown as one of the target areas for redevelopment.
“Downtown is one of the areas where the city absolutely wants to encourage new development,” Jensen said, along with Midtown and the University district.
Jensen and Bill Dunne, revitalization manager for the City of Reno, said that there are things that Reno can learn from looking at other cities that are successfully transitioning their downtowns from activity black holes to vibrant centers.
“Everywhere Millennials are flocking to downtowns.” Dunne said. “Right now the opportunities (in Reno) are very slim to do that.”
They said it is encouraging to see new developments such as the plans for West 2nd District and the renovation of the former Kings Inn into 3rd Street Flats. The upscale apartment complex at West and 3rd Streets is scheduled to open fall 2016. However, this type of development needs to continue.
Dunne pointed out that while finding large areas of land for developments, such as the 141-acre master-planed Rancharrah development and Park Lane redevelopment site, might be becoming harder, there are still many opportunities for redevelopment of existing buildings.
“I think there are a lot of opportunities even in the built environment,” Dunne said.
He explained that even though a lot of properties are currently occupied, many are under performing. Owners of buildings get tenants who open convenience stores or liquor stores.
“It is not really the kind of thing that is going to attract people to downtown,” Dunne said. “Most people’s focus is on the first floor of these buildings. There is so much available space above the first floor. So there is a lot of opportunity.”
The City of Reno is currently working on drafting a downtown action plan.
“What I hope comes out of that is a strong consensus to really focus on Virginia Street.” Dunne said.
Some of the challenges that the City of Reno faces that prevent redevelopment are costs and resources available. The City has to rely on business partners to move projects forward.
“We have so many partners whose objective is the same as ours and that’s really important,” Dunne said.
Jensen said city staff also is looking internally at things that impede economic development. He explained, that some ordinances don’t allow businesses to do certain things that could enhance activity levels in downtown.
“It is very important that you are constantly revising your codes, that you are looking at the issues and that you are making changes when something happens that is of unintended consequences,” Jensen said.
Dunne stressed that with new development and revitalization, it is important that the city doesn’t lose its identity.
“We still want Reno to be Reno,” Dunne said. “It’s urban yet its still has a little bit of that rugged western independent streak to it.”
Both Dunne and Jensen felt that development in Reno was headed in a positive direction.
“I still think we are not there yet,” Dunne said. “We still have some work to do, but we are headed in an amazingly positive direction.”
“They are all prepared to be our future leaders and decision-makers and will see first-hand the complexities of a growing and industrious region,” says Chamber CEO Ann Silver.