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Sale of Community Assistance Center in discussion for months despite no council decision on its future

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A letter of interest sent in January to the City of Reno for the potential purchase of the Community Assistance Center resulted from months of work by partners at Bash Capital, who communicated with city staff about purchasing the property as early as July of 2023. 

City Council members will consider the possible sale of the CAC to Bash on Wednesday during their regularly scheduled council meeting. 

The proposal Bash presented in its latest letter of intent for the properties was two-fold: an option to purchase the parcels for $1.5 million and develop as they choose, or purchase for $1 and maintain at least 51% of units in the development at rents affordable for those at or below 80% average median income. Regardless of the option, the developers said the project would support “the revitalization of an entire neighborhood, uplifting lives, and fostering a vibrant urban environment in downtown Reno.”

The proposal is a revision of concepts that the partners at Bash Capital have been discussing with city staff for months.

City staff’s work leans toward sale of CAC

Brianna Bullentini, a partner with Bash Capital, was emailing city Revitalization Manager Bryan McArdle more than nine months ago. On July 26, 2023, she sent an update on Bash’s planning work for the site, which would be for market-rate housing. She indicated they were working with Tesla officials to ensure the housing would be fit for its employees. 

“I am waiting on Tesla to get back to me on their desired unit mix here,” Bullentini wrote in an update to the group’s architect, which was included in an email to McArdle. “Hoping for a rough database of desired room size and then compare on what is customary to the area. Looking into possibly x micro units. Or penthouses overseeing the ballpark. If we think it should be heavy amenity or wanting to work with local gyms, retailers in the area to encourage walkability and sparking downtown activation.”

A parcel map included in an email from Bash Capital’s Brianna Bullentini to Reno Revitalization Manager Bryan McArdle in July 2023. The map shows an outline of an area that includes the city’s Community Assistance Center that Bash Capital wants to redevelop into housing, along with questions during their discovery process.

The email to McArdle shows that partners at Bash, who also include local contractor Jeremme McGilvray, developer Troy Keeney, and Denver-based architect Nate Jenkins, were also talking to owners of adjacent properties to potentially purchase or lease their parcels to create a larger footprint for the proposed housing development.

On July 27, 2023, McArdle forwarded Bullentini’s email to City Manager Doug Thornley and then-Assistant City Manager Eric Edelstein, noting, “They are moving as fast as they can on their due diligence to put a deal together. Kaufman is interested and was on a call with us last week. But I believe Kaufman is waiting on Brianna and crew to put the package together.” 

Meanwhile, city staff was also working on the potential sale or disposal of the CAC. 

The City’s Director of Policy and Strategy, Calli Wilsey, emailed a policy briefing to Council Member Jenny Brekhus on Jan. 20, 2023, noting, “Staff is working on the next steps related to the [CAC] property, including security of the site; looking at short-term options to activate the site with City operational needs; and preparing for a Request for Interest (RFI) process. Staff is planning to bring forward an item to Council in the future.” 

An email from City of Reno Staff to Council member Jenny Brekhus in January 2023 providing an update on staff plans for the Community Assistance Center.
An email from City of Reno Staff to Council member Jenny Brekhus in January 2023 providing an update on staff plans for the Community Assistance Center.

Wilsey said preparations for the RFI process included getting appraisals and “completing boundary line adjustments or parcel maps to prepare the property for sale.” This was despite council members in March 2021 indicating more discussion on the site’s future was warranted

Reno historian Alicia Barber, at the time, noted that redevelopment of the CAC site had become more attractive in recent years with multiple renovated buildings and an increase in business activity nearby, including hotels and bars. 

Discussion of the potential sale of the property was planned again for December 2021 but was removed from a council meeting agenda amid concerns the building may need to be used as an overflow shelter.

City Council members didn’t discuss plans for the CAC properties again until September 2023, when they learned that the buildings had fallen into disrepair and would require nearly $3 million in work to remove mold, replace stolen wiring and fixtures, and repair other damages. 

Thornley said he hadn’t learned of the mold in the buildings until two-and-a-half weeks before the September meeting, despite a city staff memo that noted “years of neglect.” 

Thornley’s denial of knowledge of the CAC’s extensive mold and maintenance issues was also made despite a June 8, 2023, restricted appraisal of the CAC properties at 315 and 355 Record St. provided to the city. 

The city’s request for appraisal included valuation based on two scenarios. The appraiser estimated the value of the parcels with both buildings demolished at $3.95 million. Both parcels with just the building at 315 Record Street demolished—and the CAC remaining—were estimated as worth just $300,000 more, or $4.25 million. 

Two options outlined

Since that July email from Bullentini to McArdle, Bash Capital’s plans for the site appear to have shifted based on restrictions placed on the property because of the $3 million in Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds used to help finance the construction of the CAC. 

If the city sells the property or changes its use to no longer meet CDBG requirements, the city would need to repay a portion of the CDBG funds.

That’s where Bash Capital’s two purchase options come into play. Buying the property for $1.5 million would cover the amount the city would need to pay back on the CDBG and allow Bash to develop the property into housing, potentially at market rate. The second option would be the $1 payment and mix of affordable units to meet CDBG requirements. 

Neither offer would come close to bringing the city the market value of the properties—the $3.95-$4.25 million indicated in the appraisal—but the sale would eliminate the city’s liability for maintaining the facility. Based on city records, the city spent 685 hours on maintenance of the CAC in 2021, which is far short of the industry-recommended 1,928 maintenance hours that a building of its size and age should receive, according to city staff.

Project notes included in a letter to the city from Bash Capital’s partners indicate they’re eyeing the second option with the inclusion of “attainable housing,” targeting residents earning $20-$25 per hour. The proposed six-story building would include “rooftop activation” with views of Greater Nevada Field, located just across the railroad tracks to the south. 

The tan second and third stories of 315 and 335 Record St. can be seen just past the left field seating at Greater Nevada Field. Bash Capital’s redevelopment plan for those parcels would include a six-story building with “rooftop activation,” offering a birds-eye view of the stadium. (Michael Smyth / This is Reno)

The developers also note several “site constraints” and “challenges” with the location that they would need to overcome, which they indicate would increase their development costs or reduce their projected revenues. Those include the CAC’s mold problem, potential soil contamination, noise from the railroad tracks, a large power pole and the presence of “the lingering homeless population” nearby, partly due to services offered at the Reno-Sparks Gospel Mission. 

Questions raised by some in the community

Some community leaders and advocates have indicated they’re not completely opposed to the sale of the two CAC parcels, but have concerns about the lack of discussion about their potential uses. 

Washoe County Commissioner Mike Clark said he thinks other options for the CAC should be explored before the city moves forward with a sale to a developer. 

“Lease it to the county if the City of Reno doesn’t want it,” he said. “Maybe the county could take it over as a warming center or a shelter for women and children. Seems to be lots of other possibilities.” 

He also said he found a lot of things questionable about the potential deal.

“There are 19 different questions that I have, starting with the maintenance of the place. [I’m] wondering why the city would take an asset like that and not manage it properly,” he said. “What’s the building really worth? Why are they willing to release that building at under market value—or the appearance of being under market value?” 

Local business owner and community advocate Ilya Arbatman said the City Council’s consideration of an offer on the CAC properties would be premature and potentially illegal. He has advocated for community and council discussions on the future of the CAC for the past several years.

“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,” he wrote in an op-ed published Monday. “Let’s agendize a public discussion on what to do with the CAC and potentially put it up for an RFP. 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.”

He also noted that Nevada law requires the Reno City Council to adopt a resolution finding the sale or “disposal” of a property is in the public interest before it can be offered or sold for less than fair market value. That has yet to be done.

Historian Alicia Barber, in September 2023, when damages to the CAC were originally reported, said, “I agree that the future of the Community Assistance Center building on Record Street should be the subject of a future City Council agenda item so that the public can fully understand what happened to it and how it can be fixed/repurposed for the public good.”

Kristen Hackbarth
Kristen Hackbarth
Kristen Hackbarth is a freelance editor and communications professional with more than 20 years’ experience working in marketing, public relations and communications in northern Nevada. Kristen graduated from the University of Nevada, Reno with a degree in photography and minor in journalism and has a Master of Science in Management and Leadership. She also serves as director of communications for Nevada Cancer Coalition, a statewide nonprofit. Though she now lives in Atlanta, she is a Nevadan for life and uses her three-hour time advantage to get a jump on the morning’s news.

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