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Is CommRow The Thing?

We here at Burncards have been following the new CommRow development as closely as we can.  We attended the initial Planning Commission meeting where the special use permit was issued.  I watched and tweeted on the City Council meetings where the garage agreement was denied and subsequently approved.  I’m in favor of the project and I support the developer, Fernando Leal.

Judging by the comments threads on other local blogs and an op-ed piece by Diedre Pike in the RN&R this week, it seems there are a lot of people who think this project is a joke.  The sentiment can be summed up like this: Leal “failed” at his only other venture in town, the Montage, and closed a perfectly fine hotel-casino and then screwed the city out of back rent on a parking garage they had no business buying in the first place.  Oh also, this new project CommRow is a stupid idea and nobody will ever go there and it’ll be closed before you know it.

Well, let’s just take those points in order.  First, while Leal may have ended up turning Montage over to the bank, it is a stretch to call the project a failure.  Want to see a failure?  Look across the train trench from the Montage at King’s Inn, which has been closed since approximately 2 days after it opened back in 1975.  Montage has people living there and this summer, at least on a temporary basis, a neon sign museum will open on the ground floor.  It’s a nice looking building, a good project, it’s open for business and if the housing crash hadn’t happened, the ownership situation would look different.







For Phase 2:  A BMX park on top of the parking garage

The garage situation is a sordid affair, and certainly doesn’t speak that well to the City Council’s exercise of their fiduciary duty over the years.  Getting the garage off the city’s books will probably be a good deal for the city in the long run regardless, and Leal has to pay two years’ rent up front in order to use the garage until the purchase option kicks in.  The ideal situation?  No.  But not the end of the world.

Somehow there’s this notion that if someone is building a project in Reno, that’s the way Reno is going, that’s Reno’s new “thing,” so there’s been a lot of talk about whether this “thing” is the right “thing.”  Frankly, it’s irritating.  Is a hotel with a climbing wall and a boulder park the new model for things to come in Reno?  Not necessarily.  Why should it be?  Not every other property or new project in town has to be the same.

But I can tell you what Reno’s new “thing” should be, are you ready for it?

Reno’s new “thing” in this writer’s humble opinion should be getting all the closed hotels, empty buildings and vacant storefronts in downtown open for business.

You read that right.  Reno’s new “thing” needs to be, not only is some of Reno open for business, all of Reno is open for business.  Stuff is happening, it’s not sketchy or scary, it’s not all the same old casino experience.  There are some non-gaming hotels, some upscale, some old time Reno style hotel-casinos, office buildings, condo buildings, souvenir shops, restaurants, bars, yes tattoo parlors, pawn shops, art galleries, a YMCA downtown wellness center, a movie theater, coffee houses, maybe even some stores that sell stuff nearby residents or even long term visitors might need.

It’s not all casinos here, but it is all open for business.  Photo:  New To Reno

Everything in Reno, open, open for business.  Reno, a real town.  With stuff going on.  That should be Reno’s new “thing.”

From where I’m sitting, Leal, the one who is trying to make a go of this project, is doing something that points toward that goal, he deserves the support, I will remain optimistic and see how it plays out, and all you negative people, go see if you can round up millions of dollars and do your own project.  You ain’t doing the rest of us any good sitting in the corner guffawing.

While We’re Talking About Reno’s Blight & Weekly Motels…

Is “any exposure good exposure” for a city?  That’s the question on the agenda today with news of the filming of the cinematic adaptation of Willy Vlautin’s book The Motel Life going on in town right now.

An article by Forrest Hartman in the RGJ today looks at several examples of how exposure of a city’s supposedly undesirable qualities in movies or TV can generate tourism.  The tone of the piece seems to indicate that the sky is not falling, if people see something a little outside their comfort zone for their own town, they may still be attracted to Reno as a place to visit.

Before we look at the examples, let’s have a quick synopsis of the plot of The Motel Life. Here’s just the beginning of the Wikipedia plot summary:

Frank and Jerry Lee Flannigan are two down-and-out brothers who live a meager existence in Reno, Nevada. Both men are high school dropouts who live in cheap motel rooms, work at odd jobs for money, and drink heavily. One night, while driving drunk during a blizzard, Jerry Lee accidentally hits and kills a teenage boy on a bicycle. Although the accident is the boy’s fault, there are no witnesses, and Jerry Lee is certain that the police will put the blame on him. He convinces Frank to leave town with him and flee to Montana. Along the way, Jerry Lee abandons Frank in Wyoming and then burns the car in a secluded Idaho forest. Both men return separately to Reno.

Pretty grim.  How about the examples in Hartman’s article?  The first example, The Hangover, is described thusly: “The movie depicts a group of guys traveling to Vegas for a bachelor party, getting blitzed and waking up to discover a host of problems. These include a tiger in their suite, a marriage to a prostitute and a run-in with gangsters — all arguably things the average person hopes to avoid.”

Do they become trapped in Las Vegas and start living in motel rooms, committing crimes and running from the law?  Nope.  Las Vegas’ image is untarnished, the place where people who are well-to-do enough to travel across the country for a bachelor party have crazy things happen to them before everything returns to normal and they go home.  Score one for Vegas.

Another example is Love Ranch, a movie set in Reno based loosely on the story of The Mustang Ranch brothel.  A story set in a much busier, more glamorous Reno area, about something that is enticing and alluring to many from outside the area.  Score one for the legendary status of The Mustang Ranch.

How about The Vampire Diaries?  The small Georgia town where this TV series is filmed draws visitors from all over the world who want to see the town where the show is set.  It’s a regular place, and we all know vampires don’t really exist.  Sort of a Twin Peaks effect.  Score one for fantasy.

Willy Vlautin is a talented musician and author, he’s from Reno and he knows a thing or two about his subject matter.  In this case his subject matter is the very real social problem of derelicts and vagrants living two-bit lives out of weekly motels, parked directly adjacent to liquor stores, availing themselves of the resource and becoming trapped in a lifestyle which can only lead to tragedy.  There’s something to be learned in his story, and it’s a good thing it’s being made into a movie.  It’s a good thing the location chosen for filming is the location of the setting.  It will undeniably be a powerful piece of cinema.

So, not to be too much of a cynic, but (here it comes), it seems to this author as if the only tourists a movie like that will attract are the people who will become trapped in the story.  Score one for social ills.  And a big goose egg for Reno.