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UNR floats real estate deals amid budget crisis


By Lizzie Ramirez

Despite the University of Nevada, Reno’s financial budget crisis, UNR President Brian Sandoval is investigating two potential real estate transactions — one to buy property to expand the campus and the other to sell campus property. 

At an April 30 campus meeting, Sandoval talked about these two possibilities and time-sensitive timelines. The university is looking into buying homes and apartments south of I-80 between Lake and Evans Street, which would be named “University Village.” 

The Nevada Faculty Alliance questioned the deals and said there would be long-term consequences.

“The 49 or so residential units would provide faculty and graduate students with much-needed affordable housing in Reno’s expensive market,” said Kent Ervin, the director of government relations and past president of the Nevada Faculty Alliance. “While we appreciate helping faculty and graduate students with housing, the projected price is $6.5 million plus an estimated $825,000 for improvements.

“The down payment would come from UNR’s property acquisition fund, while the rest would be financed with a loan from UNR’s Operating Fund assets (account reserves held at NSHE) and paid back through rent revenue.”

Sandoval said there is money in the UNR property acquisition account, which “is a different bucket of money that is exactly for this kind of purchase.” 

However, Vice President Andrew Clinger said the account only has $1.2 million. He said the difference between the overall total of $7.3 million and $1.2 million in the account is $6.1 million. The university would borrow the remaining money from UNR’s operating fund. 

According to Clinger, the properties would be paid back after 25 years using the rental income from the residents. 

“Long-term it will be a process to turn over those properties,” Sandoval said. “We do not want to evict people; however, as they turn over, they would be made available to University faculty and graduate students.”

“The timing isn’t good. But the source of the funding would be self-supporting”

Despite the existing residents not being students or faculty, Sandoval believes this purchase would be self-supporting because the university will be making immediate rental income. 

Sandoval emphasized there is a short timeline to purchase the property. 

“If the University does not purchase, someone else will step in and acquire these properties, and we will not be able to control what goes there,” Sandoval said.

Clinger said he believes that if the university doesn’t act on this purchase, they will regret it 10 years later. Sandoval also noted the university is moving south — this is the direction they want to continue to grow.

One attendee showed gratitude and concern for the potential purchase.

“I thought you did a nice job articulating where the money will come from. That will continue to be important with COLAs and all that. But I can see people being upset about buying new things when people are potentially losing their jobs,” the speaker commented. 

“That is why we are looking for your input… The timing isn’t good. But the source of the funding would be self-supporting,” Sandoval replied.

Clinger agreed with Sandoval, saying, “One of the things to keep in mind is the obvious question: If we can do this to buy property, why can’t we do it to offset budget reductions or other needs? The difference is that this is an investment that has a return on it, and it generates a cash flow to pay back the money that we essentially borrow from ourselves.”

Potential property sale

While UNR is looking into buying property, they are also looking into selling property. Sandoval said UNR is looking into selling land north of the Med School to the Department of Veterans Affairs for a new VA hospital

Ervin noted that selling this land would rule out the university in growing north and would also displace the lower-costing parking lots as well as several buildings. 

“There are three buildings that are on the north end of campus on Evans: the NSHE building and two state buildings,” Sandoval explained. “We have had conversations with the Governor and with the state officials that oversee that, and they are going to give us a letter of intent to transfer those properties to NSHE. It will make our application even more attractive.”

Sandoval also expressed that relocating a UNR parking lot would benefit the university because the parking garage would be moved closer to campus.

A decision should be made in the “very near future,” about whether the VA hospital will be built near UNR or not. 

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UNR not ‘out of the woods’ with budget crisis

The University of Nevada, Reno was projected to have a $31.7 million budget shortfall for the next fiscal year, but campus administration said on April 30 at a UNR Campus Conversation event that the shortfall had been reduced to $12 million.