The Nevada System of Higher Education’s Board of Regents in June applied to rename North Center Street — the portion from the Truckee River to the University of Nevada, Reno (UNR) — to University Way.
The name change is being supported by the Reno Mayor, City of Reno, downtown developers and other companies. It is on Wednesday’s Reno City Council meeting agenda.
“There were also some general policy concerns from the Post Office regarding conflicting address ranges,” minutes from a meeting about the name change show. “In doing their due diligence, the University only found three conflicts with the same number within any ‘University’ named streets in the region.”
If approved by the council, the street name change would occur within six months. UNR officials are framing the name change as a “renaming” of the street back to what it once was.
That’s not entirely accurate, said Reno historian Alicia Barber.
“Changing this name is not accurately justified as a return to the street’s ‘historic’ name, one of the arguments being made by University and City officials,” she wrote in a letter about the project.” There was indeed a period of time from 1921 to 1957 when part of this street was called University Avenue, but for the other 117 years, it has been Center Street.”
“Changing the name of N. Center Street to University Way would permanently erase the name of one of Reno’s original streets, named by the Central Pacific Railroad in 1868, from the only section of street that was originally given that name,” Barber added.
She also lambasted the process by which the name change was pursued.
“Despite that months-long involvement in this effort, Mayor Schieve’s intent to ‘surprise’ the community with this plan was revealed just this week, when she appeared in a video …’ stating, ‘I’m looking at an initiative with the University to change one of our streets into University Avenue [sic]—I’m not going to say which one.’”
Barber said the announcement and inclusion on the council agenda shuts out the public from the process. It’s a similar point repeatedly raised by those critical of major city project approvals, such as the recent development agreement the council recently approved for Jacobs Entertainment, or the pause on the Center Street bike track project in favor of doing a “Virginia Street placemaking study.”
“To pursue this name change in such a top-down, non-inclusive manner as though it is entirely justified by current strategic priorities and the historical record is neither accurate nor responsible,” Barber noted. “The fact that this measure appeared on public agendas for the Board of Regents and the Washoe County Regional Street Naming Committee does not constitute public engagement with Reno citizens or the historical community.
“This decision demands deliberate outreach in order to ensure that it is thorough, supported, fully vetted, and supported by Reno residents and that all potential implications and repercussions have been considered.”
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 from the University of Nevada, Reno in 2011, where he completed a dissertation on social media, journalism and crisis communications. In addition to managing This Is Reno, he holds a part-time appointment for the Mineral County University of Nevada Extension office.