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
Nevada Day/Halloween greetings to all! Please be safe out there tonight, and if you’re driving a vehicle, take extra care to watch out for pedestrians of all sizes and shapes. Today’s Brief includes a variety of updates and previews to get your week started right.
Placemaking Study Meeting on November 2
We’ve been wondering about the status of the Virginia Street Placemaking Study ever since the online survey closed over the summer, and last Thursday, the City suddenly announced via email and social media that a “public engagement session” will be held this coming Wednesday, November 2 from 5:30-8:00 pm. It was at first slated for Council Chambers but was later changed to the McKinley Arts & Culture Center. You can also participate via Zoom by registering here. A presentation with Q&A is scheduled for the first hour, with “in-person engagement” for the next 90 minutes.
As the City explains, “Gehl will summarize the data collected through the more than 2,700 Virginia Street Placemaking surveys that community members submitted earlier this summer and gather feedback from the public to draft a community-driven vision for Virginia Street and a thriving downtown.” I’m eager to hear what steps—beyond the survey—that Gehl has taken to understand Virginia Street since securing the contract back in February. In advance of Wednesday, I’ve been re-reading their initial proposal to City Council, and I highly recommend you do the same so we can all ask pertinent questions about what phase we’re in and what comes next.
The Shifting Context of Virginia Street
One major factor that makes it hard to assess the status of Virginia Street is that the street’s baseline condition is a moving target. The largest revitalization project currently underway, the Reno City Center, seems focused primarily on renovation of the interior, particularly rooms, at this point, as Downtown Makeover revealed in a construction tour posted in January. On the project’s website, images of various amenities are still labeled “coming soon.” They did open a Starbucks in April, but they don’t appear anywhere close to opening the ground floor eateries that are meant to border the large plaza on the Virginia Street side (see below). It’s those street-level amenities that would have the biggest impact on street life, but the Placemaking Study can’t assume that will happen, given the uncertainty of development these days.
The status of the project’s commercial tenants, for instance, is unclear. On October 12, news broke that the real estate tech company Clear Capital had cut its workforce by 25%. A report from TechCrunch provided more details on how that played out. Clear Capital is the project’s first major commercial tenant, and it was at their behest that the project’s developers requested and secured approval to construct a pedestrian skyway from the main building to the adjacent Whitney Peak parking garage. That skyway was given final approval by City Council in May but it is still not underway.
The temporary micromobility infrastructure has been removed from Virginia Street north of the river (remaining in place on the south side) as explained in the City’s October 7th announcement. Data analysis will apparently continue through next spring. In the meantime, to the consternation of many, RTC Washoe’s design of the Center Street Cycle Track remains on hold.
More of the same from Jacobs Entertainment
Although it passed without fanfare, last week—October 27, to be exact—marked the one-year anniversary of City Council’s final approval of the ordinance authorizing the City to enter into a Development Agreement (DA) with Jacobs Entertainment. I wrote about that after the first of two required votes in “City Council’s Baffling Approval of the Jacobs Development Agreement” and afterwards, that vote and other City actions inspired me to write “Public Process in Crisis” on November 9, 2021. Re-reading that post now, I was struck by how little has changed, and moreover, how the pattern of unilateral action I identified back then has only intensified over the past 12 months.
That Council vote last October authorized the City Manager to finalize the agreement, but I don’t know that he has. The city’s webpage for the project still links to a document titled “DRAFT – 10/19/21.” The question of whether it was in fact finalized—and if so, when—is important for a number of reasons. First, according to the agreement, the Developer is required to provide a report to City Council no later than 12 months after the Effective Date. So we need to know when the DA became effective (if it has) in order to know the date by which that review needs to happen. Second, I’d like to know precisely what it currently contains, since the agreement has undoubtedly been modified from the draft the public saw last October.
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