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.
By Alicia Barber
Greetings on a beautiful Labor Day Weekend, a time of reflection and appreciation for all those who labor, and for all of those who have labored to improve the lives of workers everywhere. I salute and thank you. And if you’d like a quick reminder of why we observe this holiday, here’s the rundown from the U.S. Department of Labor.
Today I bring you something a little different—a new feature that I’m calling the Brief Digest, to appear between longer analyses. Consider it a sort of grab bag with links to some of the development-related stories in the news over the past week or so. I’m likely to return to several of these topics for deeper scrutiny at a future date, but in the meantime, I just want to make sure you’re aware of them.
The Micromobility Pilot Project
Starting us off, Kim Burrows of News4 did a piece this week on the Micromobility Pilot Project currently in place on sections of Virginia and Fifth Streets. The piece is titled “Not everyone likes Reno’s downtown road design for bicycle pilot project” and it offers some valuable perspectives as well as a reminder that the City is seeking community input on this experimental reconfiguration for just another month or so.
This weekend offers a perfect opportunity to head downtown and experience the temporary setup for yourself. After you do, be sure to fill out the City’s survey about it, which you can find here. It’s important that you actually visit the sites, using whatever means of transportation you favor—bicycle, vehicle, e-scooter, wheelchair, motorcycle, your own two feet, etc., since the survey is geared toward users of all modes, and the survey can only be as successful as the breadth of its respondents. (I’m concerned in particular that it will be lacking in perspectives from visitors, who are frequent users of the downtown streets but seem unlikely to fill out a City survey, even if they knew about it—especially if driving through).
The City and the Howell House
Several issues in the news this week raise questions about the processes by which decisions about City property and facilities are made. If you’ve been reading the Brief, you know that that’s been an ongoing concern of mine, from major changes being made to the City Plaza (skate park, grass removal, sculpture acquisition) to the fate of historic properties like the Lear Theater and spaces like the CitiCenter site (the former bus station across Center Street from the National Bowling Stadium).
We start with the site of City-owned land at the far west end of Riverside Drive. A proposal was made last fall to make it the new home of a historic house soon to be displaced by the expansion of the Nevada Museum of Art. It’s a 1915 residence I call the Howell House (see Reno Historical entry here), also known as the Sinai Mansion.
The RGJ’s Mark Robison penned two related articles on the situation last week: an overview and a separate timeline. As I wrote on the Brief’s Facebook page (if you’re on FB, give it a follow), the sequence of events here is frustrating. Nancy Gilbert has been working with the museum on finding a new home for the house since 2019. After looking first at private parcels, she submitted an initial proposal to the City last fall to move it to the city-owned parcel on Riverside Drive. City staff, including the now-former Revitalization Manager (who lost his job for unrelated reasons a few months into their discussions) worked with Gilbert for months, but then she was told the City had received another expression of interest in the site, and that City Council would have to weigh the options in a public meeting.
The Council deliberation part is not a surprise—as I reminded readers in my last post, City Council is responsible for determining the disposition of City land. The problem is that staff didn’t take Gilbert’s proposal to Council until just last month, making it nearly impossible for them to discuss, deliberate, and decide on their preferred use for the site in time to meet the museum’s construction timeline. And the process by which they might even make that decision remained largely undefined.