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Council approves placemaking study to ‘activate’ downtown

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Reno City Council on Wednesday heard a presentation on the Virginia Street placemaking study compiled by the consultant Gehl Studios, the results of which would fuel a plan to transform the downtown area and encourage an increase in both visitation and new small businesses. 

During discussions, one word came up again and again: activation. 

“Activating” a space within the city is a term staff uses as a part of the Virginia Street placemaking study to describe ways to turn underused locations throughout the city into gathering areas and micro businesses. Essentially, bringing activity to the location.

“Placemaking” is the process of activating these spaces, such as empty lots, vacant corners, potential plazas and other small spaces that could be better used to suit residents and tourists. 

The Locomotion mural on the ReTrac lids in downtown Reno, Nev. Image: Eric Marks / This Is Reno
The Locomotion mural on the ReTrac lids in downtown Reno, Nev. Image: Eric Marks / This Is Reno.

Three phases of “prioritized placemaking” were proposed and approved by council members. 

The first phase includes streetscape furnishing zone improvements, facade improvements, “Locomotion Plaza 2.0” and “the Row Placate.”

Locomotion Plaza is located close to the Reno arch and proposed changes to the area include adding parking garage frontages, providing street closures for “complimentary programming” such as food trucks, installing bike racks, shade covers and recurring events. 

“The Row Placate” is an open lot owned by the Row on Fourth Street and proposed activations include moveable temporary seating with integrated greenery, the installation of wayfinding signs for neighboring districts and attractions and space for pedicabs. 

The second phase includes street improvements across multiple locations and the Believe Plaza. 

Activations to the Believe Plaza include additional trees for shade canopies, the installation of an all-weather concession stand, a splash pad, bleacher seating and more. 

“[More benches] have this unintended consequence … how are you going to get the quote, right people sitting down, shopping, with money in their pocket, versus people who have no homes that might like to rest there or even sleep there.”— Reno Council member Naomi Duerr

Phase three includes streetscape improvements to the upper area of the downtown area and Maker Row @Court. 

Maker Row @Court is located on Court Street and includes the installation of “pop up workshop spaces for local makers and artists,” known as microshops, a maintained parking lot behind the microshops, pop-up art gallery spaces, bike repair areas and a “micro plaza” with seating. 

Other proposed projects include “activating” the areas near the Circus Circus parking garage, facade refurbishments and streetscape projects throughout the downtown sector, among other improvements. 

Mayor Hillary Schieve.
Mayor Hillary Schieve.

Mayor Hillary Schieve said the plan was fantastic, and it would encourage small businesses to move into the downtown area that they have been barred from due to the high pricing in the area. 

“Small businesses have not come downtown […] because they have to take tremendous amount of risk and with that risk comes a high price task, and most businesses cannot afford it,” she said. 

Schieve also said that people don’t want to go downtown in its current state. 

“I’m sorry, but they don’t, and it’s really disheartening. We’ve all wanted to see it thrive for so long, it’s time to go.” 

Council member Naomi Duerr said that all of the plans proposed include the installation of trees, but the city is already dealing with challenges involving trees close to home. 

The removal of several trees outside city hall is currently under discussion, Duerr said, due to a leakage problem in the city hall basement. 

“This is one of those things where the devil’s in the details,” she said. “We want to do it all. But we really have to say, what does that mean to have shade? Personally, I think the city should do the hard thing and figure it out on First Street. We have the same challenge as everyone else, but we should be leading the way.”

Reno City Council member Naomi Duerr. Image: City of Reno.
Reno City Council member Naomi Duerr.

Duerr also said that the city will have to be prepared for individuals experiencing homelessness to use the “activated” spaces. 

“At one point we had more benches, and benches were removed or rocks were put in place to prevent random people from sitting down,” Duerr added. “And when you prevent people with no homes from sitting down, you prevent everyone from sitting down. 

“[More benches] have this unintended consequence … how are you going to get the quote, right people sitting down, shopping, with money in their pocket, versus people who have no homes that might like to rest there or even sleep there. 

“I want to see more benches. I want to see more bathrooms,” she continued. “If you want people, people have to go [to the bathroom].” 

Much of the discussion dealt with traffic and the balance between micro-mobility transportation such as bicycles, e-scooters and skateboards, versus motorized vehicles and how much space should be dedicated to parking, bike lanes and bus lanes. 

About $2.5 million in federal funding was set aside for the mile-long revitalization project, which will be used across the three phases. 

Council accepted the placemaking study, and across the next three months projects within the plan will continue to return before the council for individual approval. 

Council nixes appeal in This is Reno public records lawsuit 

Council instructed the City Attorney’s office not to file an appeal of the decision stating that the City of Reno violated state law when it refused a public records request in relation to a copy of the “Space Whale non-fungible token (NFT)” disseminated at the U.S. Conference of Mayors in June 2022. 

In March 2023, a court hearing was held between This Is Reno and the City of Reno after the city denied or delayed 10 separate public records requests submitted by This Is Reno. Requests spanned from police body cam footage from multiple incidents, email communication between the city staff and Bird scooters representatives, copies of complaints regarding trivia nights and details on an NFT card handed out by Schieve at the mayors’ conference. 

The court determined that out of the 10 requests, the final request regarding the NFT held merit. 

“Transparency is a value. Let’s just give this record… The irony to me is we can’t deliver the public record, which was something that was given out anyway. Let’s just give that to them to show a good-faith effort that we’ve given it to them.” — Reno Council member Jenny Brekhus

“The Respondent stated that the City does not have any legal arrangement or contract with the U.S. Conference of Mayors regarding the creation or distribution of the Space Whale NFT,” the order reads. “However, this Court finds this argument unconvincing. First, Mayor Schieve stated that every mayor present at the event would receive an NFT. In addition, it is clear to this Court that Mayor Schieve was active in her official capacity when distributing the NFTs at the conference, as she was conducting official government business.”  

This Is Reno has already filed an appeal in the case to the Nevada Supreme Court.

Council member Jenny Brekhus said she agreed with many of the issues brought up in the court case, including issues dealing with the release of body cam footage. She said she did not agree with the city proceeding with an appeal. 

“I don’t know why we have to appeal this decision,” Brekhus said. “Transparency is a value. Let’s just give this record… The irony to me is we can’t deliver the public record, which was something that was given out anyway. Let’s just give that to them to show a good-faith effort that we’ve given it to them.” 

Duerr said she agreed with Brekhus and said she would not be supporting the appeal. 

Schieve said she did agree there were issues in the release of police body cam footage, and that long wait times for the public will lead to an erosion of public trust. 

“I think there’s been some really good changes, and I’m hoping those will be beneficial to this conversation,” Schieve said. 

Regarding the NFT, Schieve said that the dispersion of the NFT was essentially a souvenir offered to the other mayors, and that she had no issue in offering up that information to This Is Reno. 

The decision to deny the filing of an appeal was unanimous. 

Moana Springs call for artist

Moana Springs project rendering. Image: City of Reno.
Moana Springs project rendering. Image: City of Reno.

Council approved a call for artists for a large-scale public art project that “comprises of multiple artworks and locations for artwork,” especially those that include the historic nature of the Moana Springs site. 

The locations for the artwork include the exterior north facing side of the building, the interior main corridor, the outdoor soaking pool area, the entrance lobby and the surrounding grounds. 

Artwork can include sculpture, suspended art, mural, relief and artistic lighting components. 

Finalists will be paid $4,000 and travel expenses for up to two team members to come to Reno and provide a public presentation of past work. Finalists will then have about two months to develop proposals for a potential design based on the community input and interviews. 

Finalists will be selected in June with proposals due in September. Proposed artwork will be presented to the city council for final approval in January 2024, with installation between February and August 2024. 

The total project budget is up to $700,000, with $525,000 being set aside for the art itself. The rest of the funds will be spent on administration costs and maintenance fees. 

Other items

— Council approved a resolution creating a special event sponsorship committee to alter how the funding process operates. The process for allocations has not been updated since 2014, and a new resolution includes a sponsorship committee tasked with recommending the “most appropriate special events” to support, which will be approved by Council. 

— Council adopted a resolution to augment the 2022-23 budget with additional appropriations to the general fund for $2.3 million; augmentation in the street fund of $71,276; and augmentations in the general capital project fund for a total of $900,213. 

— Council appointed Andrew Ancho of the Reno Fire Department to sit on the regional E911 advisory board for the term of May 1, 2023 through June 30, 2026. 

— Council appointed council member Kathie Taylor to serve as a commissioner to the Reno Housing Authority. 

Kelsey Penrose
Kelsey Penrose
Kelsey Penrose is a proud Native Nevadan whose work in journalism and publishing can be found throughout the Sierra region. She received degrees in English Literature and Anthropology from Arizona State University and is currently pursuing a Masters in Creative Writing with the University of Nevada, Reno at Lake Tahoe. She is an avid supporter of high desert agriculture and rescue dogs.

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