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Barber: Casinos in context (commentary)

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The importance of recognizing where we are

By Dr. Alicia Barber

New Year’s Greetings! I hope this finds you all safe and well. City meetings resumed last week and step up in earnest this week, with the first City Council meeting of 2023 on tap this Wednesday, January 11 (agenda here). Before development cranks back up again, I’d like to discuss one of last year’s most pressing topics: the relationship between Reno’s casino resorts and the community. Sometimes when discussing issues of urban development, we can get so consumed with the details of individual actions and applications that we don’t take the time to consider the big picture. In this case, it seems beyond time to devote some undivided attention to the role of the gaming resorts that continue to loom so large in our city’s economy and on its skyline. 

In the months to come, the City will be making major decisions involving three existing or proposed casino resorts:

  • The Firecreek Crossing Resort-Casino, an all-new casino project being proposed for a site across from the Convention Center on South Virginia Street.
  • The ROW, the combined Eldorado, Silver Legacy, and Circus Circus owned by Caesars Entertainment, a major player in the future of downtown’s revitalization.
  • The Sands Regency on West 4th Street, currently undergoing renovation by Jacobs Entertainment, back this month with a request involving signage.

One of my primary motivations for writing the Brief is to provide context to help our city leaders and residents better understand and evaluate the development decisions we face. There’s a policy context, of course—the whole universe of zoning, master plans, and ordinances—but also a historical context that helps to put these actions in a broader perspective. Then there’s the context of urban development, keeping an eye on how other jurisdictions face similar decisions, recognizing that Reno can always benefit from learning what others have done. Lastly, there’s the physical context. Each structure occupies a unique setting, a specific, tangible context that warrants examination at the most granular level, to understand how each project relates to what’s around it, and what impact various actions are likely to produce.

Casino resorts are so familiar to us here in Reno that I think we can forget how peculiar an urban form they really are. There is truly nothing like them in terms of their massive physical stature, their disparate array of interior functions, and their purposeful departure from the everyday. These are multi-block-sized edifices that strive to keep their patrons fully occupied and satiated with an all-inclusive environment replete with lodging, restaurants, gaming and entertainment, and amenities ranging from spas and shops to meeting rooms and even wedding chapels. 

Over time, as the number of casino properties in Reno has decreased, the physical (and political) presence of those that remain has only intensified. That makes this the perfect time to scrutinize the impact of these massive structures on the environment around them. Only by doing so can we ensure that that as they expand, they do not hinder or even harm the surrounding businesses, residences, services, scenic vistas, and overall quality of life that we so desperately need to nurture, particularly in our city center. If we fail to conduct that rigorous analysis, there’s a very real danger that Reno will not only fall behind the scores of other cities that have successfully acknowledged and addressed those impacts, but will continue even further along the same path that led our troubled downtown where it is today.

Read more at The Barber Brief.

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.

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