Preserve Nevada Stresses Need for more Transparency from UNR Concerning Historic Houses (Opinion)

An historic home in the Gateway district south of UNR.
An historic home in the Gateway district south of UNR.

Submitted by Michael Green, Preserve Nevada

More than two months since the bidding process ended for the removal of a dozen 19th century “Gateway” houses south of campus, the University of Nevada, Reno (UNR) has released little information on developing plans for the historic structures, neglecting transparency and historic preservation, according to Preserve Nevada board of directors, the state’s oldest historical preservation organization.

“We understand the need to move forward and the opportunities that the university wants to take advantage of, but the more transparent the university is about this situation, the more it gives proper opportunities and time for public involvement and comment, the better off everybody will be — the university community, the people of Reno, the houses themselves, and those committed to their preservation,” said Preserve Nevada Director Michael Green, author of Nevada: A History of the Silver State. Other of the board include former Nevada Governor and U.S. Senator Richard Bryan, former KLAS Television Vice President Robert Stoldal and 10 additional historians and preservationists from around Nevada.

The university announced plans two years ago to remove a group of 12 houses, including classic examples of the architecture of the late 1800s and early 1900s, from the south end of campus on Lake and N. Center streets to make room for new campus buildings. Six of the buildings to be moved are Queen Anne houses from the 1870s, 1880s, and 1890s — dating to when UNR moved from Elko to Reno in 1885 — that were among Reno’s elite residences.

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However, after opening it for bid to the community, UNR provided only six weeks between the Request for Proposals and their due date. It then received offers from several groups to move the houses. One of them proposed creating a historic park and repurposing some of the buildings in the existing Evans Park, thereby keeping the houses in Reno, accessible to the population, and close to the original location.

Within a few weeks after the deadline for proposals, the university said it chose to award ten of the houses to Common Ground Urban Development, which is working in conjunction with Burning Man. The organization denies the historic houses removal to Fly Ranch, north of Gerlach, or in Reno, but has yet to say where it would relocate them. Leisaa Beckham, principal at Common Ground, said, “We support the community’s effort to keep the houses in Reno.” But more than a month after the UNR announcement, no further information has been forthcoming.

“It appears that the preservation community has had little to no input in the process, which is a concern,” Green said. “These houses present great opportunities for history and for the community, and, indeed, for the university itself. We all can agree or disagree on what’s best. But it’s vital for everyone involved to be open and transparent with one another, and thus with the people of Reno. Even if we learn tomorrow what will happen to the houses, the process for deciding this has been a problem from the beginning, and the university needs to do a better job.”

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