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Reno to assume control of Lear Theater


The Reno City Council accepted a donation on Wednesday from Artown of the Lear Theater and its parking lot, although officials said much work needs to be done to bring the historic theater back to productive use.

Public ownership could provide additional opportunities for the Lear’s preservation as well as grants and funding available to government agencies as well as private investors.

“It is a city treasure we all wish to restore,” Artown board member Rick Trachok told the council.

The Lear Theater, 528 W. First St., was built by architect Paul Revere Williams in 1938 as a church. Services were held there until 1998, when it was purchased by a theater coalition. Some performances occurred but plans never fully materialized and Artown acquired the building in 2011 with the goal of transforming the property into a regional performing arts center.

The most recent effort in 2018 to solicit proposals was unsuccessful in finding a suitable proposition that met Artown’s needs. In June of last year, Artown announced it was working with local developer Ken Krater on ways to save the Lear through development, including an option to build up to 50 luxury apartments adjacent to the theater. That plan was opposed by many, including historians and preservationists who called the plans “outrageous” and urged preservation over development.

In 2013, a feasibility study conducted by AMS Planning & Research included design options that would bring the building up to code for a publicly accessible theater, which were estimated at $5 million.  It is most likely that would exceed $10 million today and such funds aren’t in this fiscal year’s budget, according to city staff.  However there are less expensive improvements that could be constructed to bring the building to a usable condition which could allow for some income and community activity. 

Mayor Hillary Schieve said the public needs to know the project is a “massive, massive undertaking.”

“So, for many years it’s been really hard to get there but we think with the opportunity that the city can apply for grants,” Schieve said. “I don’t want people to think tomorrow it’s going to be restored. It’s going to take some time.”

The city acknowledged it would need to engage subject matter experts and conduct community workshops to help get ideas on how to rehabilitate the almost 8,000 square-foot facility. It will likely need another entity to manage and program the venue. Similar arrangements are already in place with city-owned facilities, such as Sky Tavern off of Mount Rose Highway, Southside School on East Liberty Street, and the Reno Ballroom on North Center Street.

Carla O'Day
Carla O'Day
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.