by Nora Heston Tarte
Why do you live in Reno? It’s a question many of us answer often, especially to those who haven’t visited the city in a decade or more. With a local events calendar brimming with glitzy talent and a melting pot of both authentic and diverse cuisine, it’s easy for locals to defend their choice. And while most corners of Reno are filled with old favorites and new additions, a few neighborhoods took longer to find their footing in the Biggest Little City.
In the 1950s and 1960s, Fourth Street was a thriving city center well known for restaurants like Louis Basque Corner, and an easy choice for locals to get out on the town. After the construction of I-80, a lot of that changed. Criminal activity spiked and Fourth Street swiftly went from the place to go, to the place you shouldn’t go.
Over the last decade, and especially the last five years, all of that has changed thanks in large part to investment in the areas at both a community and national level. Fourth Street has undergone a revitalization, reinvigorating its former reputation as a bustling destination for visitors and locals.
Initiatives to address crime, homelessness and other less-savory activity in the area have paid off, and the investment of Renoites and big-name international development companies have helped Fourth Street turn a corner.
In addition to bringing new life to existing establishments—Chris Shanks purchased Louis Basque Corner in 2011before opening The Depot Craft Brewery & Distillery and Piper Stremmel opened The Jesse in 2019, which was previously The Royal Hotel, The Reno Jazz Club and the Lincoln Lounge—new business owners have also seen the area as the place to invest.
“We felt it was an up and coming area,” Alynn Delisle, co-owner of Nevada Sunset Winery with Mike Steedman, said of their decision to move into 415 E. 4th Street, selling wines alongside Great Basin Winery in a shared tasting room. “It has always also been more affordable and has more parking available than other Reno locations… and there are other similar businesses that customers can enjoy.”
Although Nevada Sunset Winery has only been in the area since 2017, Steedman previously owned The Studio, an art and culture center and music venue on 4th Street, from 2006-2017.
Steedman said it was the (since moved) homeless shelter moving in that caused a lot of negative ideas about the area. While it was in part a positive move that helped keep people off of the streets, it also led to a perception that the area wasn’t safe. With the support of the Downtown Business Improvement District and additional businesses moving in, that stereotype fell away, and the homeless center was relocated to a new campus.
“The biggest change since then is the cohesion of the businesses in the area,” Delisle said. “This has been great as we complement each other and plan events for the entire Brewery District [the area’s adopted nickname] for people to attend and enjoy.”
To commemorate the area as such, neighborhood flags were added in February to distinguish the space. There are more than 15 locations for grabbing a beer or cocktail, which includes businesses like Black Rabbit Mead Co., Lead Dog Brewery and Pigeon Head Brewery, stretching from the east to west ends.
“Our hope is that a more significant impact will be felt if we choose to invest heavily in one area and focus on bringing more business and people to that street,” said Stremmel.
Seeing Fourth Street as a space that has the potential to rival places like Midtown, the Riverwalk District and the Wells Avenue District, Stremmel has both opened new businesses and revitalized previous hotspots that needed a facelift and a new identity.
Those spaces include The Jesse Hotel & Bar, a six-room boutique hotel with an outdoor patio space that debuted in 2019; Estella Tacos y Mezcal, the on-property fast casual Mexican restaurant at The Jesse that serves up tacos and agave spirits that also opened in 2019; Abby’s Highway 40, a well-known dive bar that has a long history in Reno but had previously closed before Stremmel reopened the space (alongside her business partners) in 2022; and Dumpling Queen, an airstream selling—you guessed it—dumplings on the Abby’s Highway 40 patio since winter 2022.
In addition to its density of businesses, Stremmel also sees the area’s potential in its walkability. “The sidewalks are wide, the street is well lit, parking is readily available and businesses are located within close proximity of each other,” she said.
Stremmel also champions the area’s large concentration of craft businesses, places that sell products they themselves make such as breweries, distilleries, wineries, a meadery, coffee roasters, and companies that provide services.
“This street is raw, gritty and home to some of Reno’s best architecture and oldest buildings, many of them historical,” she said. “Like all of downtown Reno, 4th Street still has room for improvement, but the potential is huge.”
That being said, Stremmel hasn’t stopped her mission to breathe new life into Fourth Street. With plans to open in 2025, Stremmel will debut The Morris, another boutique hotel with a food and beverage component, staying true to her own development brand.
Perhaps the largest investor in 4th Street, at least monetarily, has been Jacobs Entertainment, a Colorado-based development company that recently unveiled plans to rebrand The Sands Regency as J Resort.
The Rocky Mountain giant originally got involved in Northern Nevada development in 2001, with the acquisition of Gold Dust West.
Getting familiar with the area is what led the company to take a vested interest in 4th Street, according to Jonathan Boulware, a long-time Reno resident overseeing much of the company’s local projects.
“We think it’s a great place to invest,” Boulware said, citing its proximity to I-80, visibility from the freeway, historic value, its open space and its location in relation to other developing areas, such as Keystone Avenue and Downtown Reno.
Despite its perceived brand as an unsafe neighborhood, these reasons triggered a series of buyouts and takeovers for Jacobs Entertainment.
By purchasing—and demolishing many—crumbling hotels with ghastly conditions, the goal became to offer 4th Street a complete rebrand.
“The vacant lots actually started the rebrand of this area because people felt safer,” Boulware said. “Just by not having all that activity in this area, it started to rebrand this area immediately even without the amenities in it.”
In 2016, Jacobs Entertainment purchased the Carriage Inn. They ran it as a motel for a while but eventually knocked it down because the rooms weren’t safe to live in. They repeated the same process with multiple blighted motels, taking down over 600 rooms in all.
The Crest Inn is the only one that still stands today as a motel, often providing long-term stays for those who call it a more permanent home.
After purchasing it, the company renovated every room to make living conditions better. While facing backlash for removing affordable housing, Boulware said a lot of their behind-the-scenes efforts went unnoticed. “When people say affordable, it wasn’t affordable.”
At the Crest Inn, the company saved one room to the end in order to show press the conditions people were living in, including black mold and asbestos. “The smell of the black mold was so strong… you couldn’t take it,” he said.
Residents were routinely paying $1500-1600 per month for these 200 square-foot rooms. “The worst were black mold everywhere, out of control pests with bed bugs and roaches, sometimes there’s no heat in the winter [and] no air conditioning in the summer,” Boulware explained. Locks didn’t work, which caused safety concerns, and there was high police activity.
In 2018, the Carriage Inn received the highest number of calls for service for a 44-room property in all of Reno.
To get people out of these situations, Jacobs Entertainment offered rent forgiveness and relocation assistance, getting people into affordable housing that was safe and met their other lifestyle needs.
“We understood what everyone needed, and that’s what we did,” Boulware said.
Jacobs Entertainment has big plans for the area, which includes transforming some of those empty lots left behind. Two-acres of the land has already been redesignated as the Glow Plaza, which began offering concerts and other entertainment in 2021. Boulware calls it an “epicenter for entertainment, for great food, fun.”
On March 7, Jacobs Entertainment officially announced the J Resort and Glow Plaza Festival Grounds to the community. The plans include a $300 million renovation and 750-room resort at the site of the previous Sands Regency, anchoring the half-mile-long Reno’s Neon Line to the festival grounds, which are capable of hosting up to 6,000 patrons.
Five hundred rooms as well as half of the casino floor were opened immediately, with the rest of phase one planned for June. When finished, the resort will include 600+ new gaming machines, 1,000 surface parking spots, a new three-meal restaurant dubbed Hanna’s Table, an Italian steakhouse, a lounge and art installations to match the energy of the sculptures already taking up space on The Neon Line.
This summer will also act as the Glow Festival Grounds first full season of entertainment with over 50 event days of festivals and outdoor special events.
In the end, Jacobs Entertainment plans to rebrand and reimagine 23 blocks and 40 acres of the 4th Street area. “It’s a great area in Reno,” Boulware said. “It’s a wonderful area for development.”
Stremmel added she would like to see the addition of housing on 4th Street next. “Which will give the neighborhood a built in customer base, making it less of a destination and more of a neighborhood spot people can access on foot.”
She’s also excited for continued collaboration amongst current business owners, a collaboration with the University, more street-wide programming and more accessible rents (both residential and commercial) to continue building the area up.
“The two most significant external changes we’ve seen to the area since we’ve opened are the introduction of the Downtown Reno Partnership, and more specifically the Ambassadors, as well as the relocation of the homeless shelter from Record Street to the Cares Campus,” Stremmel said.
As for the future of 4th Street, Steedman would like to see the Bowling Parking garage open to the public and more signage on neighboring streets to advertise The Brewery District. “Also, we would love better shade trees on the street and public trash cans.”
Mostly, however, Delisle said she imagines more businesses investing in 4th Street and people getting more comfortable with visiting to see how great the area has become.
“The area is fun, safe, diverse and has plenty of parking to allow people to enjoy the breweries, wineries, distilleries, dive bars, restaurants and other establishments that are all walkable around the Brewery District,” Delisle said. “We have a local Tour de Brews every couple of months, which is a great way for people to get introduced to the various spots.”
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