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Too many questions: City misses deadline for answers on Jacobs development

By Bob Conrad

City of Reno officials this week apologized for a second time to 200 people waiting for answers about Jacobs Entertainment’s plans for its west downtown development.

“Due to the overwhelming response by the community, staff will need additional time to ensure that we answer all questions appropriately,” Jeff Limpert, city revitalization manager, wrote in an email Jan. 24 after the city missed its deadline. 

He did not respond to a question from This Is Reno as to when the answers would be provided.

City officials initially said answers were meant to be given to attendees of the Jan. 10 Neon Line District meeting by Jan. 21. 

That didn’t happen. Only questions submitted before the meeting have been answered.

On Wednesday the city’s Matt Brown emailed meeting attendees saying, “we seemed to have picked a bouquet of ‘Oopsie Daisies.’ As we worked through Constant Contact to compose an email to send to pre-registered meeting participants, we accidentally unsubscribed some of those who had previously subscribed to our e-newsletters.”

Brown also did not respond to a question as to when the remaining questions would be answered. 

“We really just need some concrete plans.”

City Manager Doug Thornley today told This Is Reno the city received hundreds of questions about the project.

“We’re mindful of the commitment made and are working hard to get the answers published,” he said. 

Jacobs Entertainment has been repeatedly criticized by members of the public and city council members for not disclosing intentions for the numerous vacant lots the Colorado-based company created after demolishing weekly motels since 2017. 

Propublica’s Anjeanette Damon reported in November Jacobs’ demolitions have caused “chaos and uncertainty.” The weeklies were occupied by those experiencing poverty. 

City officials have defended Jacobs’ demolitions by saying motels were unfit as residences. They even helped with one demolition.

A University of Nevada, Reno study from 2007 shows that vouchers used to be given to those experiencing homelessness so they could live in the motels. 

“The weekly motels do provide, however, a useful service,” researchers noted. “Service providers have used the weekly motels as emergency, transitionary and temporary housing for those individuals and families who would otherwise end up living on the street, along the Truckee River in encampments, in automobiles or other public spaces without the most basic type of shelter. 

“The weekly motels also offer the useful service of providing temporary shelter for those individuals new to the Reno-Sparks-Washoe County area and who are waiting for more permanent housing to become available,” researchers added.

A recommendation by UNR was to improve security at the weeklies and add things such as laundry facilities and kitchens to make them more livable. Instead, the weeklies continued to draw a disproportionate number of police calls and code violations.

A decade later, the city began approving Jacobs’ demolitions.

“The motels, decades past their prime, had served as housing of last resort for hundreds of people with extremely low incomes and few other options,” Damon reported in November. “Jacobs was clearing the way for what he said will be a $1.8 billion entertainment district anchored by his two casinos.”

Those plans have failed to materialize. Those attending the January meeting said they were unsatisfied with answers provided by the company’s representatives.

“Vision is something you have before you begin to tear things down. Five years is too long for a property to sit vacant,” said Ilya Arbatman. “You cannot make the argument that it’s nicer to live on the sidewalk than someplace with a door. We really just need some concrete plans.”

In advance of the meeting, Jacobs’ PR firm invited select news media to interview Jeff Jacobs about his plans. Media that have covered the Jacobs development and plans extensively – including This Is Reno and Propublica – were not invited, however.

One meeting attendee called the situation “sketchy and bleak.”

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