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Planning Commission debates skyway over Ninth Street by UNR

By Carla O'Day
Published: Last Updated on

A special use permit to construct a pedestrian bridge over Ninth Street at the University of Nevada, Reno was categorically denied Wednesday by the Reno City Planning Commission, which was split 3-3 on whether to recommend project approval to the Reno City Council.

The open-air, covered skyway would connect the UNR Gateway Parking Garage to campus. The Reno Fire Department noted no concerns with the project, although police and campus security suggested lighting along the length and underneath the pedestrian bridge and additional emergency blue phones in the garage’s lobby.

Heidi Gansert, UNR executive director of external relations, said the campus has run out of places to expand. The skyway has been part of the University’s master plan since 2014 and the city adopted it, in part, in 2016, she said. Master plans set trajectory for future growth.

“We were asked, and we partnered with the city and Regional Transportation Commission to serve as a catalyst, to really grow toward downtown,” Gansert said. “This is really the only place we can add parking, the only place we can add academic space.”

For example, Gansert said UNR would like to build a new college of business and repurpose the more centrally-located existing business school.

“If you think about a college of business and the connection it can have to downtown, placing it in the gateway makes a lot of sense,” Gansert said. “We could have internships. We talked about another innovation center being connected to it. We want that adjacency to downtown. We want our students to add to the vibrancy of downtown.”

Those opposed to the skyway cited concern about the historic integrity of the area, obstruction of scenic views, whether it would fit with campus décor, and maintenance of mature tree canopies.

A rendering of UNR's proposed skyway from the planned Gateway Parking Structure, as viewed from Center Street.
A rendering of UNR’s proposed skyway from the planned Gateway Parking Structure, as viewed from Center Street.

“We don’t think the modern utilitarian boxcar look of the proposed skyway is compatible with Morrill Hall, a 19th century building listed on the National Register of Historic Places,” said Lori Wray, a Scenic Nevada board member. “Other than red brick, nothing in the design enhances the scene and historic nature of the area.”

Planning Commissioner Peter Gower opposed the plan citing procedural issues, referring to the issue as a “mixed up scenario.” He said the project should’ve been vetted by the city Design Review Committee as required by code instead of exempting the committee from certain projects.

“This whole text amendment has been, in my opinion, a compete disaster; and planning project by project with text amendments to our code and master plan, is in my opinion, a terrible precedent,” Gower said. “Because what happens is you make these quick decisions based on individual projects, not thinking about the ramifications of future projects.”

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