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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.

A Moratorium On Bars, Liquor Stores, and Tattoo Shops?

Reno Mayor Bob Cashell is on the war path against tattoo shops, liquor stores, and bars in Reno. Recently in a piece on KOLO TV, (and in the RGJ) Cashell said he and his wife went “out on a tour” around downtown and were very put off by the numbers of these businesses. So put off, in fact, that he’d like to see a 6 month moratorium on issuing any new licenses.

“I want a moratorium on any bars in the city, packaged liquor and tattoo shops,” he said. “They’re out of control.”

We here at Burncards don’t go on “tours” of the downtown area. For some of us, being in the downtown area is largely a function of going outside. For others, we’re down there all the time. In fact, one thing that brought us together was the fact that we like Reno, we can’t shut up about it, and we’re talking about it all the time. We’re always thinking about ways to improve it.

The moratorium idea only makes sense if the point of it is to allow the city to come up with some policies that will help guide this licensing situation in the future. While we agree there should be a “clean-up,” of sorts, simply saying “no,” to something isn’t a solution. What would we do?

Each of these types of businesses is different. They have different clientele, operating hours, function and plans. So treat them differently. A great place to start would be for the council to consider each liquor license case separately, rather than just voting on all of them via the consent agenda. Have the applicant show up and make a case for the benefits their business will bring, what hours and products they intend to sell, etc.

Tattoo shops are not blight, nor are they bars or liquor stores. They have some of the best kept storefronts in the city. They are a beacon of art in an otherwise moribund environment. They are also not that likely to attract derelicts and vagrants. Have you priced tattoos recently? They don’t come cheap. Say what you will about their personal aesthetic or their lifestyle, but the inked among us aren’t the problem. Tattoo shops come and go on their own and there is no rational reason to squeeze them out. Instead of broad-brushing them with other concerns, why not make an event where tattoo shops could come together, such as a open-air event in the spring or summer? Enthusiasts purveying local business, visiting an area’s like-minded stores or eating their foodstuffs?

Bars would be treated separately, too. Categorically, bars are not a problem (nor are they liquor stores or tattoo parlors). There are many great bars in and around the downtown area. Individual bars can cause problems. Revoke the liquor licenses of those bars. There is a coterie of great bar operators in Reno that open new locations and Midtown/Downtown is right where the action is and should be.

Now for the liquor stores, which are not bars or tattoo parlors (as you’ve no doubt realized). Liquor stores are not the thing that is causing the blight in Reno. Liquor stores are like tumors. Tumors are the outgrowth of cell damage caused by cancer. The underlying cause of the cancer is different. The cause of the cancer in Reno is the nasty weekly rat’s nest motels, weekly hovels and slumlord-run properties. Reno needs a round of chemo, stat: treat the patient, not the symptom. Encourage Reno to live healthy. For example, putting a liquor store so close to the homeless shelter was probably not the best idea ever approved by the council.

Want to eliminate blight in Reno? First, attempt to not throw the baby out with the bathwater. While we can all agree there’s a place in Reno for just about any kind of business, step up the footwork and treat each attempt with scrutiny. Try not to mass-categorize apples as oranges, and finally, clamp down and eliminate the sordid weekly-rent lifestyle in the downtown/Midtown area. Lastly, plan effectively and license on a per-business basis. The difference will be night and day.

Editor’s note: When we at Burncards want to editorialize collectively about something such as this issue, you’ll see it come from our Department of Unsolicited Opinions.