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Barber Brief: Putting the pieces together (commentary)


The Barber Brief is an independent e-newsletter and blog written by Dr. Alicia Barber on the Substack platform. It is reposted by This Is Reno with her permission.

By Alicia Barber

Before I jump in today, just a quick reminder that these posts can also be viewed on my Substack website here, where they might be a bit easier to read. So let’s dive in.

Jacobs Entertainment has been a major subject of the Brief for nearly a year now because its holdings comprise such a large section of downtown Reno and because the City’s Development Agreement with the company specified next to nothing about what would actually be developed there—information that one would assume should be the primary condition for entering into such an agreement in the first place.

Instead, the City gave the company free rein to brand a big chunk of west downtown “Reno’s Neon Line District,” with the only specified new construction being one condo project (since changed to apartments) at Arlington and West 2nd Street.

The City’s justification for the glaring lack of specifics in the agreement has seemed to be that any development in this area would constitute a “public benefit” for the City by eliminating what it terms “blight” (mostly older motels) and eventually, maybe, sometime, resulting in the construction of something new in their place.

None of that has ever made sense from a planning (much less a housing) perspective. Acts of faith (“whatever happens will be great!”) are not compatible with city planning in general, or with this city’s own Master Plan in particular. As I pointed out in my February 7 Brief, “Reno’s Next Big Gamble,” the City seems specifically to have granted Jacobs a blanket exemption from its existing plans for “Urban Corridors” like West 4th Street by failing to require that it adhere to any of its own clear, carefully thought out, publicly vetted guidelines for our few major central thoroughfares.

And now, because the City didn’t require Jacobs to indicate what would be built on most of the land it has assembled, the company can take its time rolling out its plans bit by bit instead of having the entire project presented and reviewed all at once. Announcing each new component in stages is certainly advantageous from a marketing perspective (each new announcement provides an opportunity for another press release or exclusive interview, after all), but from the public perspective, it’s disastrous, since we’re forced to evaluate each new component in a vacuum, without the ability to accurately assess how all the pieces will ultimately fit together.

(It also occurs to me that announcing each stage separately has made it impossible to determine whether the entire scope is of a sufficient scale to qualify as a “Project of Regional Significance,” which would warrant review by the Regional Planning Commission, but that’s an evaluation for others to make.)

That picture is coming more into focus now, after a recent appearance by Jacobs Entertainment CEO Jeff Jacobs on the KTVN program “Face the State.” Divided into two 12-minute segments, this interview is revelatory not just for what Jacobs divulged about his plans for this part of town—including just where he wants to build a large outdoor amphitheater—but for a whole array of assertions, assumptions, and explanations that to me raise even more questions. 

Right off the bat, Jacobs says something that made my jaw drop. When asked by Arianna Bennett how he decides “what goes where and what needs to be built,” he replies, “Well, a lot of planning, that’s for sure. It’s a live-work-play district. We want it to become nationally recognized as something people want to visit, also want to live and recreate and work in. So we master plan all the elements ahead of time.”

I’m sorry, what? They “master plan all the elements ahead of time,” as in a while ago?

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