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A post-council analysis: Selling city parcels to Jacobs Entertainment (commentary)


In this week’s Barber Brief, Alicia Barber discusses what’s been happening since her preview of the potential sale of two downtown properties to Jacobs Entertainment, and what’s ahead at the Aug. 11 Reno City Council meeting. Read the full missive here.

By Alicia Barber

I hope this finds all of you safe and well. I’ll be closing this post with a quick preview of the development-related projects on tap for discussion by City Council on August 11. But before that I have to take a step back and discuss the terms of sale for those two downtown City parcels to Jacobs Entertainment, one of the July 28 City Council items I previewed in my last Brief.

As a gaming industry site reported, Jacobs had “sweetened the deal,” offering to pay the City a total of more than $3 million for the parcels at 290 Keystone and 0 West Second Street and providing an additional kicker—25% of the net proceeds should Jacobs sell the parcels they’ve assembled to a third party, as they’re almost sure to do. You can read the Reno Gazette-Journal’s more nuanced coverage here.

But when it comes to the sale of City property, there’s more to a deal than the financials alone, and various anomalies of this one—from the introduction of a completely new offer by Jacobs the morning of the meeting to a slew of unacknowledged revisions to the option agreements—appear to run counter to the City’s stated commitment to the principles of transparency, accountability, and responsible redevelopment planning.

A short stroll down memory lane

Those who read my previous piece may recall my concern about the vagueness of the proposed deal, as presented in the meeting materials made available in advance. Recall that the Jacobs’ two-year options to purchase these two City parcels were about to expire (one may already have), prompting the effort to extend, restate and amend them.

My concerns stemmed from a convergence of several factors:

  1. The Resolution to amend the 2019 option agreements curiously left the purchase prices for the parcels blank, rather than indicating that each would be sold at “the appraised value of the property,” as the original 2019 agreements had stated.
  2. This past April, Jacobs stated their desire to purchase both at an absurd discount.
  3. The new staff report stated that “The proposed revisions would discount the previously agreed upon purchase price” without revealing any exact numbers.

Put all these together and it was pretty obvious that Jacobs would be coming to the table on July 28 with offers below the appraised value of the parcels, and that the Resolutions as drafted by City staff would give City Council the freedom to fill in the purchase prices with whatever numbers they agreed upon in the July 28 meeting.

Recall too that I also expressed concern that Jacobs might come in with something at the very last minute that would attempt to influence the Council to give them what they wanted (I thought it might be fancy architectural renderings of their proposed project). And I ultimately didn’t support approving any revised option agreements at this meeting, because of the absence of a suggested purchase price or any indication of possible conditions of sale. That left the public (and Council) with very little to review.

I sent an email with a link to my post to the Mayor and City Councilmembers on the morning of Tuesday, July 27, hoping that my analysis of the vague Resolutions might help them, too, and immediately received a gracious reply from Councilmember Devon Reese, who thanked me, said that he had read it, that we would have to “agree to disagree” on some things (although he didn’t specify what), and that I should consider running for elected office in the future (a little off-topic, but nice, right?).

Which brings us to the morning of the meeting, Wednesday, July 28.

Now, anyone with an Internet connection can watch these meetings live or after the fact, and I hope many more will consider doing so, because it’s important and illuminating to see your City government in action. To help everyone understand what happened at this one, I’m going to include some links that will take you to the specific point in the meeting that I’m discussing, so feel free to click along as we go.

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