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Barber: City Council designs and decisions (commentary)

Date:

An unsolicited offer for the CAC; more public meetings on housing initiatives; designs for Locomotion Plaza, Virginia Street, Wingfield and Barbara Bennett Parks & more

A lot of discussions and decisions are on tap this week, and as usual, you can consult the City’s Current and Upcoming Meetings web page for meetings of interest to you. The full City of Reno calendar is here.

This week’s meetings include the Ward 1 NAB on 4/8; the Financial Advisory Board on 4/11 (where Item B.4 will involve the City’s travel reimbursement policies); and the Historical Resources Commission, also on 4/11.

The agenda for the April 10 City Council meeting (view it here) has two items of particular interest to downtown development. One (D.2) involves possible approval of designs for Locomotion Plaza and Virginia Street in association with the Virginia Street Placemaking project. And the other (D.5) is discussion of a company’s proposal to acquire the City’s two Community Assistance Center properties on Record Street.

It’s a packed Council agenda, so check it out for other items including these:

  • D.1 – Quarterly City budget augmentations and revisions
  • D.3 and D. 4 – The Downtown Reno Partnership’s FY 2025 Operating Plan and Budget and scheduling of deadlines to object to its assessment roll
  • D. 6 – Parking Enforcement code changes

Let’s start with the most surprising item, the offer to purchase the CAC properties.


Item D. 5 – Potential Disposition of the City’s Community Assistance Center properties on Record Street

In a surprise move, Item D.5 indicates that a private entity called Bash Capital, LLC has proposed acquiring the City’s two Community Assistance Center (CAC) properties at 315 and 335 Record Street. Downtown Makeover has an overview here.

Included among the item’s attachments are two “revised” Letters of Interest dated January 26, 2024 (the original letters are not included):

  • The first Letter of Intent (011024) provides a project overview, assessment of the site constraints, a financing plan, and biographies of the project team.
  • The second Letter of Intent (011124) includes a property description, map, and two purchase options. Under Option A, the company would pay $1.5M for the property. Under Option B. the company would pay $1.00 for the property and enter into a Development Agreement to develop it into a multifamily project with at least 51% of residential units offered at 80% AMI (Area Median Income) or less.

But here’s where I think we need to pause for a moment and take a breath. Because we seem to have skipped a pretty important step.

Namely, the City has not yet decided whether or not to dispose of these properties, much less whether to offer them for private development.

And yet staff is not only recommending that Council direct them to “prepare the properties for sale” but is providing them with just three options—enter into negotiations with this company; issue an RFP; or hold an auction—without even providing the option that the City might retain the properties for some other use, either civic or leased.

Doesn’t the decision of whether to dispose of the CAC warrant its own agenda item

I don’t see how disposal of this massive civic investment can be realistically wrapped into the same discussion as contemplating an offer for the property. It’s hard enough for City Council to conduct thorough discussions of single agenda items given their self-imposed three-minute time limits for each round of discussion.

The City’s Revitalization Manager has stated previously that the City is open to unsolicited offers for City property at any time. And that may be appropriate in cases of vacant land or random pieces of City property but not for those that have been the subject of intense discussion (not to mention millions of dollars of public investment).

And there’s undeniable public interest in this one. I’ve personally been tracking the City’s discussions and decisions about the CAC for more than three years, as have many members of the community. Here’s a brief recap:

  • March 2021As I wrote in my Brief (which also provides a short summary of the CAC’s history), City Council contemplated selling the CAC for around $7 million to help fund the CARES campus. Councilmember Brekhus did not favor a sale and suggested the building could provide a lot of opportunities. Mayor Schieve expressed interest in partnering with a private developer to construct housing. Others suggested exploring all options. Nothing was decided.
  • December 2021: The potential sale of the CAC was removed from City Council’s agenda amid concerns about limited capacity at the CARES campus.
  • October 2023Staff memos and news reports revealed that the vacant buildings had undergone extreme deterioration since their closure, including mold, water damage, and more than a dozen incidents of burglary, as I reported in my Brief.

And now here we are with an unsolicited proposal from a single private development group to acquire the properties to construct a housing project.

It’s clear that the City Manager’s office wants to dispose of the CAC. But as our public representatives, I hope that members of City Council would agree that they need to hear more from residents about that question first. Many have called for one or both of the buildings to be restored and reopened as a shelter or service provider of some sort. They might also be of interest to other governmental entities who might find the cost of their rehabilitation to be much more appealing than new construction.

Even if Council decides in favor of unloading the property, the various options for how to proceed also warrant thoughtful discussion. Auctions, of course, basically award a property to the highest bidder. In contrast, issuing an Request for Proposals or Request for Interest (as the City previously did for the old CitiCenter transit site), gives the City (and the public) control over what might be developed there, allowing for public negotiation, transparency, and community buy-in.

A formal Request for Proposals or Request for Interest also enables everyone (both in Reno and beyond) to have a fair shot at formulating a proposal within the same defined time frame and ensures that everyone has access to the same information about the building and site.

So what do you think?  Before the meeting, you can always feel free to reach out to your representatives using the contact information on each Councilmember’s web page. You can attend the meeting in person or via Zoom. And here are the other options for commenting as found at the top of the April 10 City Council agenda.

Read the rest at The Barber Brief.

The Barber Brief is an independent 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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