Jacobs Entertainment doubles down on downtown Reno with $11 million Renova Flats project | nnbusinessview.com

Jacobs Entertainment doubles down on downtown Reno with $11 million Renova Flats project

RENO, Nev. — Three adults and two dogs, surrounded by severe decay — mold, mice, bed bugs — crammed in a 200-square-foot unit for four and a half years.

That's an example of the living conditions developer and gaming operator Jacobs Entertainment said it found families in when the company acquired the former Crest Inn Motel on 4th Street in downtown Reno.

Jacobs Entertainment — which owns the Sands Regency and Gold Dust West casinos in Reno — bought the property as part of its expansive efforts to revitalize the West 4th Street corridor and create a mixed-use arts and entertainment district.

"The living conditions from day one were absolutely horrific," said Jonathan Boulware, vice president of Nevada operations at Jacobs Entertainment. "People living in severe mold overgrowth, filthy carpeting that hadn't been changed for years, pest infestation, cockroaches, ceilings that looked like they were about to cave in … just absolutely unlivable conditions that people were exposed to."

In response, the company relocated the former residents at the dilapidated Crest Inn. The majority of the residents were moved to apartments, while two people were moved to houses and a few others were relocated to motels, Boulware said.

Moreover, the development company has been covering their rent costs since June and donated furniture, food, and moving laborers.

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Boulware said 42 units were occupied when they bought the property and the company provided assistance to those occupying 38 of them. Those living in the other four units, he said, did not abide by Jacobs Entertainment's "code of conduct" and were evicted. Elaborating, he said the rules forbade engaging in illegal activity and putting residents at risk.

"Even when we went to that stage, we gave everyone an opportunity and said, 'Are you sure? We will help you,'" he continued. "But if people were in violation of the code of conduct we had to make some tough decisions."

A new look

Since relocating former Crest Inn residents, Jacobs Entertainment has been in the process of converting the 46-room Crest Inn and nearby West 4th Street mini-mart and gas station into a new urban residence called Renova Flats.

The name of the $11 million project, which the company announced last week, is the combination of the words Reno and "nova," the Latin word for "new," Boulware noted. The units are slated to be rent-ready by early spring.

Boulware said the renovation will include cosmetic upgrades such as new flooring, bathrooms, windows and doors. A community kitchen and lounge will also be carved out for the residents.

"It sounds like really simple stuff but a lot of these doors had been kicked in, windows hadn't been changed in years and weren't very secure," he said. "So we want people to feel safe, we want the rooms to feel as new and comfortable when the come."

Boulware said the units will be market rate housing, though he could not specify what the rates will be.

"We really want to go out and do comparables and understand for this type of unit, for this type of community, what is the fair rate that we should charge?" he added. "So we've got some more homework to do."

Boulware went on to note that Jacobs Entertainment will be setting aside a number of affordable units for senior housing.

Meeting a need

Pat Cashell, regional director of Volunteers of America Northern Nevada, said the additional market rate apartments is a "huge" benefit to the community. After all, he said the VOA can't stay up with the rising rents in Reno.

"A lot of those families and individuals that we had housed for the last few years are actually coming back to the shelters, so it's not good," Cashell told the NNBV. "So we need more stuff like this; we don't have to tear down every motel. We can rehab these and — as long as they meet qualifications for our housing — we can put people in them and actually pay their rents for them."

To that end, Reno Mayor Hillary Schieve praised Jacobs Entertainment for bringing affordable housing to downtown and for improving the aesthetic and safety of the corridor. She said the corner of the former Crest Inn had one of the highest calls for police service in the city.

"People were afraid to come here and the conditions were deplorable," said Schieve, adding that it's a citywide problem. "People keep talking about the hotels as affordable housing, but they're not. They actually in a lot of ways have been how people have been preyed upon and taken advantage of certain things that have happened in their life."

Mayor Schieve was quick to point out that there are "a lot of great motel owners" but said she's seen firsthand how people are being taken advantage of.

"I met a woman who had a catastrophic illness and that's how she ended up living in the motels," she said. "Then come to find out she was paying $1,200 a month to live in 150-square foot dilapidated motel. The bedding hadn't been changed in 20 years.

"I think people need to know that a lot of the motels, yes, serve a purpose, but at the same time that is not OK for them to be in conditions that aren't livable."

This, Schieve said, is why Jacobs Entertainment's Renova Flats project is a shining example of the type of development Reno needs.

"We see the fruits of what's happening when a developer comes into the city that no one wanted four years ago because we were the highest in foreclosure and unemployment," Schieve said. "But they're coming into a city and saying, not only do I want to revitalize this city, I want to help people and change their lives."

motel residents to share stories

In an effort to give a voice to displaced community members, an event will be held on Thursday, Nov. 1, for current Reno motel residents to share their stories and perspectives.

This comes on the heels of many motels being demolished in the downtown corridor and affordable housing options dwindling. Simply put, these motel residents wonder what their future holds.

The free Our Town Reno event — “Who Does the City Belong To?” — will be held from 5-7 p.m. at the Desert Rose Inn on 655 W. 4th St.

According to organizers, the event will occur as an amended ordinance for inspecting long-term motels rooms is scheduled to go into effect, which could increase prices for motel residents.

What’s more, the event comes just days before new elections for mayor and city council seats, with issues involving homelessness, blight and motels at the forefront of many debates.