The development agreement proposal by Jacobs Entertainment to transform west downtown drew hours of discussion among Reno City Council members at the council’s Wednesday meeting. Many had concerns and questions about specific components of the proposal, in part because the company is asking the city for millions in subsidies.
Garrett Gordon, attorney for Jacobs, pitched the project and said $20-25 million worth of tax increment financing could be used for housing, road improvements, green space and signs.
The city council would determine how those dollars would be spent, which prompted council members to make suggestions.
Councilmember Devon Reese suggested using the money to rehabilitate the Lear Theater. The Lear building has been fenced and in a state of disrepair after failed negotiations between the building’s owner, Artown, and prospective parties seeking to develop the theater.
Mayor Hillary Schieve, citing what she called the city’s dire financial situation, suggested using some of the money for parks or open space.
“I love being able to invest in our historical preservation [such as the Lear Theater],” she said, agreeing with Reese’s idea for the Lear.
Councilmember Naomi Duerr said she would like to see the process be more transparent, including a public workshop about what’s being planned for the various Jacobs properties.
Gordon said outside developers are expected to build out properties for 2,000-3,000 residential units. He said the units would be “market rate” and affordable.
Gordon pitched the development agreement as a major benefit not only to downtown but to the greater Reno area. The company is seeking subsidies in the form of fee deferrals as well as discounts on the purchase of city properties. It also wants indefinite rights to have three skyways.
Requested subsidies include reductions in fees, sales of city properties at discounted rates, the creation of a new redevelopment district and the removal of properties from existing redevelopment districts.
Schieve praised the proposal as well as Jacobs’ ripping down of weekly motels, which, she said, were in such poor condition that they should not have had people living in them.
The city’s Arlo Stockham said the project would have numerous community benefits, but he said the plan needs tweaking before coming back to council.
“We wanted to bring this forward because it’s so consequential, and such a major project in such an important area, to get some preliminary direction that would guide our work with the applicant to finalize this agreement,” Stockham said. “It’s a unique application that warrants that level of review.”
Bob Conrad is publisher, editor and co-founder of This Is Reno. He has served in communications positions for various state agencies and earned a doctorate in educational leadership from the University of Nevada, Reno in 2011. He is also a part time instructor at UNR.