By Carly Sauvageau
The potential purchase of the Bonanza Inn property for affordable housing was a point of debate between Reno City Council member Jenny Brekhus and Mayor Hillary Schieve at Wednesday’s City Council Meeting.
Reno Housing Authority’s initial offer on the now-closed hotel at Fourth and West streets, which was posted for sale at $3.6 million, was not accepted.
The property is in probate, meaning that RHA can attend a court date to make another bid on it. The council was being asked to approve up to $6 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds for that effort.
Brekhus said she was hesitant on whether RHA should bid on the property to create affordable housing.
“For me, the details need to get packaged a little more, then we send $6 million to the housing authority,” said Brekhus, who said she was suspicious of bidding for the Bonanza Inn property.
The Bonanza Inn property is near Jacobs Entertainment’s proposed Neon Line District. Brekhus said she’d seen an interview with Jeff Jacobs implying his workforce would need housing in the area. Brekhus said she wanted to ensure the housing was not allocated based on favoritism or other city relationships.
Schieve repeatedly said she didn’t want what she called politics holding affordable housing funding hostage. She said she was frustrated by “constant spin from a certain council member.” She meant Brekhus. The two frequently argue during council meetings, and Brekhus is challenging Schieve to be the next mayor.
“Listen, I know that you have said that you’re critical because it’s in the Neon Line District,” Schieve told Brekhus. “I don’t know if you understand, Councilwoman Brekhus, there’s not a lot of inventory out there and if we’re all going to get serious about affordable housing you’ve got to jump on what is out there.”
Schieve said there is limited land available for such projects.
Council member Neoma Jardon said the property is ideal for an affordable housing plan due to its location in close proximity to many downtown Reno jobs, which as it stands right now is lacking in affordable housing.
An affordable housing community here would provide post-graduates and service-industry workers with housing close to their work, she said, lowering the cost of living and encouraging more walking and biking.
Schieve’s and Brekhus’s debate over the Bonanza Inn property may, however, be moot.
Dave Aiazzi, an RHA board member, told the council that speed is a key factor in these types of bids. The political process often slows down the RHA getting funds, and then a private contractor could come in and outbid the RHA.
Amy Jones, RHA’s executive director, said that if the purchase of the Bonanza did not work out, the funds allocated would be used to pursue other affordable housing opportunities. Since the funding is through ARPA, the council would need to approve any specific projects it is used for.
It was indicated during the meeting that Jones would only be in her position with RHA for one more week.
The motion to approve a bid on the Bonanza was carried with Brekhus in opposition.
Council unanimously passed sewer fee waivers and other funding help for other affordable housing projects. This included the Washington Station Senior Apartments, an independent affordable housing project along Third Street between Washington and Vine, Orvada Senior Street Apartments, another senior housing project, and plans for the Dick Scott Manor.
Community members ask for in-person NAB meetings
Several citizens during public comment said that the access and communication around their ward’s Neighborhood Advisory Board (NAB) meetings is lacking.
“This is about the fifth public comment I’ve made that I’ve seen that you guys aren’t listening to me.”
They requested in-person meetings, saying it would be easier on senior citizens and others who are unable to attend virtual NAB meetings either due to technology literacy, access or scheduling.
Donna Keats from the west side of Brekhus’s Ward 1 told council that in her neighborhood there is a revision to a PUD (planned urban development) next to a Virginia Lake Park. Keats said that many people wanted to attend the NAB meeting, particularly elderly people, but the notice passed around her neighborhood had incorrect contact information on it. She also said the information posted online was incorrect.
Keats said many neighbors reached out to her because they knew she kept up with city politics and wanted to know where they could attend in person. Since there is no in-person meeting, she said citizens did not know how to make public comments.
“It’s a failure and it’s [the PUD revision] a very big deal…This is about the fifth public comment I’ve made that I’ve seen that you guys aren’t listening to me,” she said.
Brekhus said she asked the city manager, Doug Thornley, about the incorrect contact information but had not yet heard back from him. She also said she wanted to hold her own NAB meeting in-person, which Schieve later said Brekhus was free to do.
Jardon said that she had heard the opposite from her Ward 5, that they preferred virtual meetings so they could attend while doing other things. Council member Naomi Duerr said that her Ward 2 worked best with a hybrid meeting format.
Caesars Entertainment to develop downtown
Officials from Caesars Entertainment, which owns The ROW casinos, said they have plans to spur economic development downtown by bringing in more entertainment. They mentioned bringing celebrity chef restaurants, often seen in Caesars Entertainment casinos in Las Vegas, into the downtown casinos.
Caesars officials also said they would like to bring in concerts for entertainers such as Ringo Starr, Billy Idol, Culture Club and Kevin Hart. A national bowling tournament and an indoor ice rink was also discussed.
West Moana Lane geothermal drilling
Avalon Geothermal will be drilling geothermal wells along Moana Lane.
Duerr asked for a more detailed deal recommending the city retain mineral rights as lithium and gold are often found near geothermal wells. She also recommended they have a five-year development period, more of a budget and geographical boundaries for the deal.
Duerr said she wanted more clarity in the term sheet as well, as Avalon said the deal could be canceled anytime by either party. Brekhus also expressed concern in the lack of detail in the plan and was the only one in opposition to the plan.