A last ditch effort was made by a developer trying to save two boarded-up mid-century motels in downtown as the City Council debated Tuesday whether to demolish them, then reluctantly agreed to postpone a decision for another month.
The Heart O’Town Motel, 520 N. Virginia St., and Golden West Motor Lodge, 530 and 538 N. Virginia St., closed about 8 years ago and are currently fenced off. Council members planned to vote to use $216,493 from a Blight Mitigation Capital Project Fund to have the buildings leveled by Q&D Construction this summer.
Most people who spoke at the meeting supported demolishing the motels.
Darrell Clifton, Regional Alliance for Downtown president, said his organization wants the vacant motels torn down. These buildings a hindrance to improving the area make pedestrians feel uneasy, he said.
“Boarded up buildings are not only an eyesore but are public safety hazards and havens for drug addicts and criminals,” Clifton said. “Thieves and squatters have already stripped these motels down to bare bones.”
Local historian Alicia Barber opposed the demolition and creating vacant lots. She said the motels could be made into affordable housing, live-work space or offices.
“Reusing a building is the most environmentally responsible thing you can do,” Barber said. “Take the time to evaluate the resources we already have before we decide they can’t be part of the solution. The motels have potential to be transformed into exactly what you want to see in this part of town.”
Heart O’Town was built in 1960 and sits on 13,750 square feet of land. Golden West contains two structures built in 1955 and 1958. Each sits on its own 7,000 square foot lot. Northern Nevada Urban Development & Management Company LLC owns the property and its representative told the Council that the people who hold deeds to the block are in favor of demolition and the city getting the first deed of trust.
Area developer Kelly Rae of HabeRae Properties, said the buildings aren’t run down enough to be removed. She used Palm Springs, Calif. as an example of a city that’s made a multibillion dollar industry out of mid-century motels.
“I would like a chance to make an offer on the blighted motels on Virginia Street,” Rae told Council members. “Not everybody who comes to Reno wants to stay at the Eldorado or Circus Circus. There’s a lot of friends I have who come to town and say they want to stay at a really cool boutique motel. Can you name one? One? There aren’t any. That’s what I’d like to do with it. If not that, how about some affordable housing?”
It was ultimately Rae’s passion and promise to meet with the property owner that convinced Council members to delay taking action until the July 20 meeting. However, there was concern that tabling the matter too long could mean several more years of nothing getting done and that this has been an issue in the past with other proposed projects.
“There’s been promises made by these so-called partners several times,” Councilman Oscar Delgado said. “They’re going to do all these different types of things and yet they still sit on them.”
Carla has an undergraduate degree in journalism and more than 10 years experience as a daily newspaper reporter. She grew up in Jacksonville, Fla., moved to the Reno area in 2002 and wrote for the Reno Gazette-Journal for 8 years, covering a variety of topics. Prior to that, she covered local government in Fort Pierce, Fla.