The Barber Brief is an independent, free e-newsletter and blog written by Dr. Alicia Barber on the Substack platform. It is reposted by This Is Reno with her permission.
Restoring vitality to downtown Reno requires one unwavering priority
By Alicia Barber
Happy New Year, everyone! I hope the kickoff to 2022 is finding you safe, warm, and well. Like many of you, I’ve been trying to wrap up a number of projects toward the year’s end, so first, a bit of catching up in the world of local development, where a lot has happened over the past six weeks—here are just a few highlights (with links):
- On November 12, ProPublica reporter Anjeanette Damon published a long and deeply-researched article about Jacobs Entertainment and the City of Reno called “He Tore Down Motels Where Poor Residents Lived During a Housing Crisis. City Leaders Did Nothing.”
- On November 19, Scenic Nevada filed a lawsuit against the City of Reno over the City’s Development Agreement with Jacobs. More on that here.
- On December 11, Damon hosted a panel on affordable housing with representation from the City as well as “an affordable housing developer, an outreach worker who lived outside for 10 years, a housing justice activist, a housing policy advisor, and a lawyer for Jacobs Entertainment developers”—you can read her recap and watch the video here.
- The City has scheduled a public meeting on January 10 to discuss its finalized Development Agreement with Jacobs and the company’s future plans.
We’ve also had a glimpse of more proposed actions coming down the road:
- In January, Jacobs Entertainment will be requesting two sets of street/alley abandonments in the vicinity of Church Lane and West 2nd Streets, and Ralston and West 5th Streets (they were removed from the December 8 agenda).
- Jacobs applied for a demo permit for the Nelson Building at 401 West 2nd Street and demolished the 7/11 Motor Lodge, raising concerns for the adjacent historic Gibson Apartments and its tenants.
- The City may consider selling the Community Assistance Center buildings on Record Street, another item that was pulled from the December 8 Council meeting after the community raised concerns about available shelter space.
- CAI Investments (the company converting the Harrah’s Reno property into Reno City Center) applied for a permit to construct a skyway over Commercial Row to link their building to the Whitney Peak parking garage. That proposal was reviewed by the Skyway Design Review Committee on December 13 and will next be reviewed by the Planning Commission (date TBD).
I’ll give some of these upcoming decisions more attention as they get closer, but in the meantime, I want to take a step back and talk about what lies behind the concerns I’ve had with some of the development projects and proposals that have come along this past year. In the end, it all boils down to one question: “Where are the people?”
I don’t mean that just rhetorically. In my last Brief, “Public Process in Crisis,” I raised concerns about key decisions being made about the form, function, and naming of some of our most central public spaces and places without the direct and deliberate involvement of the people, the city’s own residents. (I’ll have more to say about some of those specific actions and their repercussions in a future Brief.)
Why does that constitute a crisis? Because it’s the job of a representative government to secure the broadest possible benefit from the decisions they make. And there’s a very real, very concrete reason why deliberately seeking out the perspectives, knowledge, and experience of the citizenry is so crucial when it comes to shaping the built environment we share: if you don’t, you may very well end up creating places where most of your citizens will never want to go. And Reno can’t afford to do that any longer.
Read the rest at The Barber Brief on Substack.
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