The Nevada System of Higher Education Board of Regents at its Dec. 4 meeting approved a plan to buy several land parcels fronting Virginia Street on behalf of the University of Nevada, Reno. The price tag is $3.4 million.
The parcels, owned by the Regional Transportation Commission, total more than 37,500 square feet and are located between Eighth and Ninth streets along Virginia Street. They were acquired by the RTC as a part of the more than $100 million Virginia Street Bus RAPID Transit Extension Project that has been ongoing for several years.
Months ago, RTC oversaw the demolition of the buildings that stood on the land after finalizing the purchase of the parcels in 2019 and early 2020–spending $9,279,500. After razing the buildings, including the Sundance Motel and Coed Lodge, RTC used only a small fraction of the land to create a bus pullout. UNR will acquire the remainder of the land purchased for only a fraction of that price.
The land is located adjacent to UNR-owned property known as the Mathewson University Gateway area. The university intends to use this and the land acquired from RTC for the future development of the Mathewson University Gateway area as described in its Master Plan, including the possible building of a new College of Business and a large parking garage and skyway to extend over Ninth Street to the main campus.
The aforementioned property already owned by UNR is located to the east of the RTC-owned land. It’s the site where historical Victorian homes once stood on Center Street but were demolished–and some moved–to make way for the Gateway area. The decision to tear down some of these homes sparked controversy starting in 2016, with many local historians decrying the plan and the eventual creation of a petition to ask UNR to save the homes. More about the history of those homes can be found on the Reno Historical website.
Critics of the university’s Gateway area development plan, including the Historic Reno Preservation Society (HRPS), presented alternatives in 2018 to save the historical homes while accommodating new construction by UNR. HRPS commissioned an architect to make a rendering of how a new College of Business building planned on the site could fit alongside the Victorian homes if the university pushed it a bit further west, right behind the RTC station and pullout.
According to historical preservationists and meeting documents from the time, university officials said they could not plan to use land they did not own. However, a Virginia Street Bus RAPID Transit Extension Project environmental assessment from May 2017 indicates that RTC had intentions to acquire the parcels for its bus pullout when that project was first proposed–and critics have insinuated that purchase of the property by UNR for completion of the Gateway area was also long intended.
UNR has been planning for the new College of Business building on the site of the historical homes for several years. The building is expected to include classroom space, offices, lab space and retail shops.
A large parking garage with a skyway connecting it to the main campus have also been in the planning stages. The skyway, too, has sparked controversy because it would bisect a greenbelt on the south side of campus that, according to historical conservationists, is the university’s designated State Arboretum, and an area that the UNR Campus Master Plan—approved in 2014—indicated would be left untouched.
Nevada’s Attorney General last week ruled the Reno City Council violated Nevada’s open meeting law when discussion about the skyway proceeded without being added to the agenda for the council meeting. The council was supposed to be discussing text amendments to the city’s own skyway design guidelines. Instead, it was an opportunity for UNR’s Heidi Gansert—a state senator and UNR administrator—to share construction and design details on the proposed Gateway Skywalk project.
Redevelopment plans for the area edged by Ninth Street on the north and Interstate I-80 on the south and between Sierra Street on the west and Evans Avenue on the east have been discussed by the city and UNR for well over a decade now—years before the Victorian era homes were demolished and relocated or plans for the Mathewson University Gateway area were fleshed out.
This Is Reno inquired with RTC whether any other individuals or organizations were offered the chance to purchase the remaining land–which was later appraised for the $3.4 million UNR will pay for it. According to RTC spokesperson Lauren Ball, the property did not go on the market prior to being offered for sale to the university.