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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.

Reno Council Delays Decision on Fitz Garage

imageToday the Reno City Council, acting as the Redevelopment Agency Board, voted to delay a decision on transferring the former Fitzgerald’s Hotel-Casino garage to the Redevelopment Agency and approving a lease option with the CommRow project to collect $165,000 rent per year from CommRow, with a purchase option after two years.

In testimony before the Council, CommRow developer Fernando Leal said that his project is currently moving a “snail’s pace”, indicating that his project will be put on hold until an agreement with the City can be worked out on the parking garage.

In other CommRow related news, the opening dates that were being bandied about for that project were August, and apparently the climbing wall won’t actually be installed this summer, but possibly in the fall, depending on the availability of labor to build the wall.

The City Council is in an unenviable position right now.  Many of the decisions they have made hastily over the years, including the current situation with the Fitzgerald’s garage, have come back to bite them later in the financial crisis, leading to general fund revenues being spent to repay redevelopment bonds which were supposed to be paid out of dedicated revenue streams.  Today, the City’s actions with private developers downtown are under a new level of scrutiny, and public sentiment is against further subsidies for new business downtown.

The CommRow project is vital to the future success of downtown.  It would be an exaggeration to say that CommRow will “transform” downtown, but having the currently closed Fitzgerald’s hotel open with the entertainment venues CommRow will offer attracting customers, will make a huge difference especially considering its keystone location right next to the Reno Arch.

The City Council should not delay this project any further.  At their May 11 meeting, they should approve transfer of the garage to the RDA and the lease option with CommRow.  For his part, Leal needs to show that he is serious about his project, and display a little bit of faith that the parking garage situation will be straightened out.  People in Reno have noticed that the renovation at CommRow doesn’t exactly appear to be going gangbusters.  The public is ready for and excited about CommRow and showing that it’s really going to happen will help rally that public support to persuade the council to do the right thing.