VIDEO: UNR Development Plans Put Future of Historic Homes in Question

The Mary Sherman House on Center Street
The Mary Sherman House on Center Street is on the state register of historic places. Image: RenoHistorical.org / State Historic Preservation Office.

The University of Nevada, Reno’s (UNR) planned expansion toward downtown has raised concerns about the future of historic homes south of the university.

The so-called “gateway expansion” is part of UNR’s master plan. It has drawn controversy and was a topic of lengthy discussion at today’s City Council meeting.

Councilman David Bobzien advocated for a more cautious approach for developing the Center Street area between 8th and 9th Streets.

“Historic preservation matters to our community,” he said.

“How can we do this together?” he asked UNR President Marc Johnson, suggesting possible redesigns of the area in order to preserve the historic homes. “Is there a way to … split to the difference and pay homage to that block?”

UNR officials said they are committed to preserving historic properties.

“I would commit to working with the (City of Reno) Historical Resources Commission … and looking at alternatives,” Johnson said. “At the moment we have one building in mind. We would maintain (the rest) as rental properties until we need (them for future development).

“We would try to come to a compromise. We need to build a building of significant size for the College of Business, but we’re committed to working with the (Commission).”

State officials said that any state historic buildings would have to go under review through the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO).

even precincts comprise the campus. MASTER PLAN: The University District encompasses land south of the campus and includes the Campus Gateway Precinct. SOURCE: UNR.
The University District encompasses land south of the campus and includes the Campus Gateway Precinct. SOURCE: UNR.

“As is the case with other historic, prehistoric or paleoenvironmental resources in Nevada, if there is potential to adversely affect properties on the state registry, cooperation with SHPO is required to mitigate or preserve the resource. SHPO would need to hear from UNR to determine how to move forward with mitigation or preservation,” said SHPO spokesperson Jo Ann Kittrell.

The Lund Apartments, southwest of UNR on 9th Street, have been listed in the Nevada State Register of Historic Places since 1982. The Mary Sherman House at 847 North Center Street is also listed in the state register.

“The Reno Unity Center occupied the Mary Sherman house until 1998 when the congregation moved to new quarters on Kings Row under the new name, the Unity Church of Reno. From 1998 to 2012, the Reno Unity Center served as a child care center. It was added to the Nevada State Register of Historic Places in 1998 and to the City of Reno historic register in 1999.” (Source: RenoHistorical.org.)

Most of the gateway area properties do not fall under SHPO’s purview, and a number of citizens spoke against UNR’s expansion plans.

The city’s Historic Resources Commission is encouraging preservation of the properties, or, alternatively, their relocation, said Commission Chair Dr. Alicia Barber.

“The University’s already asserting that relocation of these properties is necessary,” she said. She added that she wished UNR would cooperate with SHPO.

Developers spoke in favor of UNR’s master plan amendments, citing the importance of linking UNR to downtown and Midtown, further south.

Linda Wolf, owner of the Jimmy John’s sandwich shop on 9th Street, spoke in favor of the project but asked that they be able to relocate their business if a portion of Center Street is closed as part of UNR’s expansion.

EDWAN’s President and CEO Mike Kazmierski said that he supports UNR’s efforts from an economic development standpoint.

“I applaud (UNR President) Marc Johnson and his team for moving in this direction,” he said. “I would strongly urge you to consider the importance of this initiative.”

Johnson said that development plans are dependent upon fundraising. He said it would be about three years before any development starts.

City staff said that city approval of the master plan amendments does not have an impact on the ability of the university to develop the area because, as a state entity, UNR does not have to get city approval.

The council ultimately voted to hold off on approving UNR’s master plan amendments pending more specific details and evidence of more collaboration with the city’s Historical Resources Commission.

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Bob Conrad is proprietor and co-founder of ThisisReno. He manages ThisisReno and Conrad Communications, LLC, his marketing communications consulting company (disclosure: client work includes projects funded by grants through UNR) and is an adjunct faculty member at Truckee Meadows Community College. He is a contributor to Reno Public Radio.

3 Comments

  1. Can you clarify. If UNR doesn’t need the city approval to do whatever they want with the houses then what authority does the city have? They have to approve the master plan? What does that mean? What can they do, if anything?

    • It’s complex. City staff said that the area is subject to city zoning but not to building or demolition permits. The approval was for the university’s master plan amendments — the gateway area — but as a state entity, as was mentioned during yesterday’s meeting, UNR does not need city approval if it wants to demolish historic homes. The state, however, says that UNR most go through the State Historic Preservation Office for any homes listed on the state’s register. There is one in the Center Street area and there’s another nearby on 9th Street. The city said the Center Street property would also have through the city’s Historic Resources Commission for a demolition certificate. Closing Center Street would have to be approved by the city as well. Hopefully that makes sense.

      • It is important to note that, as a state entity, the University is required to initiate review with SHPO under NRS.383.121, which states:

        “When any agency of the State or its political subdivisions is preparing or has contracted to excavate or perform work of any kind on property owned or controlled by the United States, the State of Nevada or its political subdivisions which may endanger historic, prehistoric or paleoenvironmental evidence found on the property, or when any artifact, site or other historic or prehistoric evidence is discovered in the course of such excavation or work, the agency or the contractor hired by the agency shall notify the [State Historic Preservation] Office and cooperate with the Office to the fullest extent practicable, within the appropriations available to the agency or political subdivision for that purpose, to preserve or permit study of such evidence before its destruction, displacement or removal.”

        This includes “historic evidence” that is not listed in the state register.

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