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OPINION: Please don’t give away the Record Street shelter to random millennial investors

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Submitted by Ilya Arbatman

On the Reno City Council agenda this coming Wednesday, April 10, is item D.5, which will consider the disposition of the Community Assistance Center (CAC) in response to a Letter of Interest (LOI) by Bash Capital, LLC. Disposition, in this case, as in disposing of, often referred to as throwing away. 

For some background and hot takes on what has been happening over the past few years with these properties (also known as the Record Street Shelter), read Alicia Barber’s latest brief and my op-ed from September of last year, when other advocates and I pleaded—for the nth time—for council to agendize an actual public discussion on how to best use these neglected public properties. In case you don’t read on, here is a summary of what seems to me the clearest, most fiscally responsible, publicly accountable, ethical and legal way forward: decline Bash Capital’s offer outright, put the CAC up for an RFP (request for proposal), and coordinate community conversations around how these properties can best serve the City that built them.

This radical plea—for basic transparency and clear, democratic process—is based not on my deranged utopian expectations for local government, but on our very own Nevada Revised Statutes. NRS 268.063 states that, before a governing body, such as the City of Reno, may sell property, it must “adopt a resolution finding that it is in the best interests of the public to sell, lease or otherwise dispose of the property: (1) Without offering the property to the public; and (2) For less than fair market value of the real property.”

Before I get into any specifics about Wednesday’s agenda item, I want to make this clear at the outset: no such resolution, finding that it’s in the public’s best interest to sell the CAC, has been adopted! In other words, if the council accepts an offer on these public properties, they will be breaking the law. 

And as for “fair market value,” whatever that is, the city had the buildings appraised in 2023, and, even with one or both of them demolished, they appraised at around $4 million. And how much is Bash offering? Well, there are two options: Option A generously offers $1.5 million and Option B comes in at a close second with a whopping $1 offer tied up very neatly with some Community Development Block Grant loophole ribbon wherein $3 million in federal funding gets to “stay” with the project, which basically means subsidized housing for the middle to upper-middle class (80% AMI (average median income), yadda yadda).

Right at the outset, the fact that the city is even entertaining this ridiculously lowball offer demonstrates a near-desperation on their part to get rid of these buildings by any means necessary. They are just so darned tired of talking—or, rather, not talking—about them. So what’s really in the staff report and the offer, which I’ll refer to as the LOI (Letter of Intent)? Let’s start with a quote from the report:

“Staff recommends the City dispose of the Record Street properties either through a direct sale to a qualified developer that meets the economic development and redevelopment purposes defined by Nevada Revised Statute (NRS) 268.063, entertain proposals via the Request for Interest (RFI)/Request for Proposal (RFP) process, or through a public auction.”

I already said above I would support an RFP process. Even a public auction might work out in the public’s favor, depending on how it was conducted and for what the funds received would be earmarked. And you know what? A qualified developer might even satisfy my demanding taste. 

Unfortunately, Bash Capital, LLC—who have submitted the LOI under discussion—is not a qualified developer, as the poorly written, unconvincing and, frankly, low-quality LOI attests. Let’s get into it. 

The Bash crew says their “attainable housing project targets individuals earning between $20 and $25 per hour, a demographic in urgent need of attainable housing solutions.” I can’t believe they said attainable housing twice in one sentence, especially because no one can tell me what that term even means and any searching I do yields contradictory answers. Okay, though, who here thinks that people earning $25 per hour are in “urgent” need of anything, other than oat milk in their coffee? 

It’s kind of embarrassing, actually, how the LOI both addresses and completely ignores the central issue at stake with these properties: the CAC was a vital community resource for those who actually have urgent and unmet needs (a roof over their head, for one). Our unhoused residents are very much still around. The CARES Campus, with its own myriad challenges, has not even moved the needle on transitional, supportive, or any kind of low-income housing. 

So what do the Bashers have to say? “We have a comprehensive plan that includes collaborating with local social services to support homeless residents.” Oh, cool! What is it?

“5. The Unsheltered Population On The Street 
a. With the Gospel Mission nearby and the site being a prior shelter, the lingering homeless population is still very much present on this site and Record Street leading into it. We will be working diligently to relocate the Gospel Mission but we have to assume this will not happen.”

What the heck kind of plan is this? “We have to assume this will not happen?” Did they put that in there on purpose or was that a “said the quiet part out loud” moment? Regardless, I have read this letter up and down and there is no whiff of a comprehensive plan of any kind. 

Fourth Street, where the CAC buildings are located, might be one of the most challenging parts of Reno for any kind of development, as a constantly shifting roster of new and closing businesses can attest. Anyone who offers to buy the CAC, especially with a lowball, sweetheart deal—how come Bash got dibs, anyway?—needs to show us that they actually know what they are doing. 

Aside from vague references to “urban fabric,” “proven spark” and “an opportunity [to] ignite the revitalization of downtown Reno and not entirely displace or gentrify while cleaning up the streets” (that’s a boutique sentence, right there), the LOI completely lacks any concrete development plans. Yes, there is some talk about financing, but that’s the only specific information in there.

Let’s put all my lefty, moralizing hang-ups aside and concede that private development will take over these properties. Fine. This is not the team for that job. They are inexperienced, underqualified and completely unprepared to take on this project. This would qualify as an “advanced” mission, and, from what I can tell, they have just barely passed Commercial Developer Level One. 

Yes, the Bashers have lined up a competent architect and an established builder, but those people get paid even if no one ever sets foot inside whatever they design and construct! The two partners, Troy Keeney and Brianna Bullentini, are both at the very beginning of their careers. Troy has done some work with Dunkin’ Donuts and Discount Tire (and maybe something in Gaffney, SC?), while Brianna’s most visible contribution to Reno’s commercial landscape was West Elm (now closed). Please do not think I am just idly throwing shade. I wish them both the best in “attaining” their real estate dreams, but this is simply not the project for them.

I have more to say, of course, but I will pause there for now. We cannot allow the CAC to be thrown away just because City Manager Doug Thornley is tired of hearing us whine about it. Council, this is an unacceptable offer. Let’s agendize a public discussion on what to do with the CAC (your legal responsibility, by the way) and potentially put it up for an RFP.

Make your voice heard! Tell the Council that we need to restore, maintain and use this vital community resource! Email ’em directly or send email public comment, submit an online public comment form at reno.gov/publiccomment, leave a voicemail at (775) 393-4499, participate via Zoom, or come in-person to City Hall on Wednesday, April 10 at 10 a.m. Reminder: all emailed, online, or voicemail comments must be left by 4 p.m. on Tuesday, April 9.

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Ilya Arbatman is a Ward 3 resident, small business owner, and community advocate. He currently sits on the Ward 3 Neighborhood Advisory Board.

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