Downtown areas, the core of every city, should provide a central gathering place for all residents and attract visitors and businesses as well. However, Nevada’s major metropolitan spots haven’t yet acheived that to the degree desired according to experts. Most development and redevelopment momentum stalled during the recession. Today, however, several Nevada cities, along with private investors and developers, have resumed efforts, and slow transformations of downtowns are occurring throughout the Silver State.
“Most hearts of cities that have become so sad over the past years and made worse by the recession have been finding themselves ignited by an energy, [people wanting] to come back and connect with each other downtown,” said Carolyn Goodman, mayor, City of Las Vegas.
“It’s changing so dramatically because gaming has changed. Gaming is still extremely important, but it’s also important to diversify,” added Hillary Schieve, mayor, City of Reno.
Also, businesses are increasingly relocating to and opening in downtowns nationwide, according to a survey report, Core Values: Why American Companies are Moving Downtown, by Washington, D.C.-based Smart Growth America, a nationwide coalition that advocates for a better way to build and maintain our towns and cities. The purpose of the coalition is to centralize operations, attract and retain talented workers, develop brand identity and company culture, foster collaboration, be near customers and business partners and achieve triple bottom line (social, financial and environmental) results.
Because major cities want people living in their downtowns, the building of affordable residences is a focus for those in need. Office space, retailers and other businesses to support those residents are another priority and typically follow naturally. Cities are also striving to establish and develop arts, sports and healthcare components in their downtowns and, more than ever, are accommodating millennials and their interests. Achieving these multi-faceted efforts, however, takes time.
“Downtown redevelopment and any revitalization effort in a community is not an overnight process. You have to coordinate multiple stakeholders and partners to make a vision become a reality,” said Barbra Coffee, director of economic development/redevelopment, City of Henderson.
Along with its well-known Strip, Las Vegas’ downtown now boasts new residential high rises along with major attractions, including The Mob Museum, The Smith Center and the World Market Center. The area continues to evolve.
“We’re always reinventing ourselves, but the difference is now the energy is downtown,” Mayor Goodman said.
One to three new businesses have been opening each week in downtown, she added. The Downtown Project (DTP), a $350 million investment in revitalizing downtown Las Vegas, is responsible for much of it.
“What we’ve tried to do is build something that is as applicable to locals, if not more so, as tourists,” said Mark Rowland, community actualizer, Downtown Project.
The DTP, which spans 62 acres in Fremont East, funds and partners with start-up businesses, 150 of them since its January 2012 inception. It also owns and operates entities, including Gold Spike, with a boutique hotel and enormous recreational space, The Market, an urban grocery and 9th Bridge preschool and elementary school. Additionally, DTP is the landlord of the Container Park which hosts the Life is Beautiful music and arts festival.
“I think [DTP] still has a long way to go before we say, ‘yes, we’ve done what we set out to achieve’,” Rowland said.
“Pawn Stars’” Rick Harrison, owner of Las Vegas’ Gold & Silver Pawn Shop, has announced plans for Pawn Star Plaza, a modular restaurant and retail center that resembles a Rubik’s cube.
The Modern, a 50,000-square-foot art museum, was proposed for the 18b Las Vegas Arts District. The area features galleries, restaurants, clothing and other shops, businesses, a performing arts venue, First Fridays and other events.
“It’s another dimension to the downtown component of culture,” said Marc Abelman, president of 18b Las Vegas Arts District. “That’s really an important part for quality of life for Vegas locals and people who are traveling.”
With the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, the city is deciding the next or concurrent use of the Cashman Field complex and considering ideas for Symphony Park. “Interest in investment [in downtown] is coming in from around the world,” Goodman said. Overall, work to make Las Vegas a world-class city is ongoing. “What you can see here in our city is just continued excitement, continued future innovation and moving the city forward,” Goodman added.
Downtown Henderson is best known for its main street. Water Street, lined with palm trees and piped-in music, is where city government and civic business occur. It’s where numerous community events take place throughout the year, such as the Super Run Car Show, Heritage Parade & Festival, Mother’s Day Art Festival and WinterFest.
“It’s a best kept secret,” said Mayor Pro-Tem Debra March, City of Henderson. “It is very authentic. It’s 60 years old.”
The current vision for the Water Street District is to augment the physical environment, develop complete streets and expand walkability. “We need more people downtown,” Coffee said. “We are trying to get midscale, midrise residential units in downtown.”
The many proposed projects include a 133-unit residential-above-retail, mixed-use complex near Water and Victory streets. Recent successes include Southend on Water, a mixed-use development project with first floor retail, second floor office space and adjacent residential units. Construction is slated for late summer. Also breaking ground this summer is a 6,000-square-foot microbrewery, the Lovelady Brewing Co.
To foster an entrepreneurial spirit, the city has launched quarterly meetings for entrepreneurs and small businesses to help draw companies and office space to the heart of the city.
The city is reviewing proposals to renovate and double the space of the aging, 13,000-square-foot Henderson Convention Center and add an on-site, non-gaming, 150-room hotel. “There are some exciting things that are happening,” March said. “A lot of interest has been piqued in downtown.”
Henderson will continue supporting the existing downtown businesses by improving the streetscape, lighting and sidewalks on Water’s cross streets and attracting private investment in downtown, Coffee said.
“We’re here to breathe new life into downtown so that it flourishes and radiates outward to the residential areas and beyond,” she added.
Traditionally, downtown Reno has been known for its Virginia Street arch that reads, “The Biggest Little City in the World,” but that may change as the city caters more to millennials, said Mayor Hillary Schieve. “We’re working to make downtown progressive and relevant,” she added.
Discussions are ongoing about merging downtown Reno with the University of Nevada, Reno, which is located at its cusp, thereby furthering students living and working in downtown. Projects to convert some of the region’s older vacant buildings into housing units are underway.
Bentar Development has begun renovating the long-shuttered Kings Inn into 100-plus apartment units. The Siegel Group, a commercial real estate developer, also turned the former Nevadan building into Siegel Suites Nevadan, studio apartments with retail and office space. It plans to refurbish the former Virginian hotel building the same way.
Complementing those efforts, the City of Reno established a $1 million fund for its Blight Reduction Initiative, hoping to ultimately spur redevelopment. It is considering options for the ReTRAC Train Trench Cover, such as a dog park with public art pieces, along with ideas for the Tessera District in northeast downtown.
Reno recently purchased the Burning Man “Believe” sculpture for $70,000. The structure will be placed at the plaza at South Virginia and Fourth Streets and the city is considering adding a splash park there as well. Also in progress is the Virginia Street Bridge Project, replacing the worn structure to improve flood control, safety and walkability. Along with the Regional Transportation Commission, the city is contemplating additional transportation through and around downtown, perhaps a trolley and/or bike share.
Numerous investors are supporting development downtown. In the basement of the former Woolworth’s building, a group opened Shelter, a bar and grill/boutique bowling alley. Entrepreneurs continue to launch businesses in Startup Row on First Street.
“Big changes are on the way,” Schieve said. “This is a very exciting time to live in Reno.”
With Carson City being Nevada’s capital, downtown is famous for being the locale of the state government, including the capitol, the state supreme court and the attorney general’s office. Carson Street, downtown’s main thoroughfare, spans seven blocks from Fifth Street to Highway 50.
For the city, its downtown is getting a facelift. With the current funded plan, the four lanes of Carson Street will be reduced to three. Sidewalks will be widened and streetscapes will be enhanced. Corridor entries will be adorned with new landscaping and signs. Work should begin next year.
Further, across the street from the capitol, Third Street will be closed to traffic and a pedestrian-friendly plaza developed there with an amphitheater and a water attraction for community events.
“Downtown Carson City is the face of the state,” said Mayor Bob Crowell. “We want to have a good appearance when people come here. Also, we need a reason for people to want to come downtown.”
As for private investment in downtown, an Illinois-based developer, MacCompany’s, has proposed Capitol Mall North, which is under city government review. The project would include two parking garages, office structures, retail space, a Hyatt hotel and a technology conference center.
The Hop and Mae Adams Foundation, which is dedicated to the betterment of Carson City, is busy resurrecting old buildings. It plans to convert the former two-story CitiBank building into a three-level, mixed-use structure. The concept for another building is a teen coffee shop. The former Stewart Title building was renovated by the foundation into an entrepreneurial center/business incubator called Adams Hub.
“The idea is to make the community amenable for not only retirees but, also, young millennials wanting to come here, live here and raise a family where they can feel safe,” Crowell added.
Downtown Sparks, the area including and around Victorian Square, is heralded for its major community events, including Hot August Nights, the Nugget Rib Cook-Off, Star Spangled Sparks and Hometowne Christmas Parade. A new one is Pumpkin Palooza in October, and the City always is looking to add more, said Mayor Geno Martini.
Transforming Sparks’ downtown, next to Interstate 80, is a work in progress. The current strategy is to achieve a critical mass of people living and some working there, which means additional residences must be constructed.
“That would help kick start more economic development, feed existing businesses and vendors and create some new ones,” Martini said. “That’s what we’ve been lacking.”
Headway is being made in this regard. The Siegel Group purchased and revamped the Nugget Motor Lodge into Siegel Suites Sparks, a mixed-use facility containing flexible-stay apartments and retail. Also underway is Reno’s Silverwing Development, a commercial, residential and land developer, plans to start construction in September of Fountainhouse, a cluster of 10 multi-story, mixed-use buildings containing 220 apartments and restaurant/retail space. In addition, GreenStreet Communities, a Reno-based multi-family development company, is slated to renovate the Silver Club Hotel into 98 apartment units.
A non-profit organization comprised of Sparks businesspeople, 39 North Downtown —named after the latitude of the city—is connecting businesses to spur economic development. Among other efforts, it organizes and holds events downtown, including the Marketplace, a Thursday night, summer farmers’ market.
“I can’t say how excited I am to finally see some things that are going to happen down there, and they’re good things,” Martini said.
Elko’s downtown, the main focus of which is Idaho Street, is best known for community socializing and partying. The biggest event there is The Motorcycle Jamboree. Additionally, parades snake through downtown, and the Downtown Business Association holds wine walks, monthly or quarterly, depending on the time of year.
The current vision for downtown is to improve it, as infrastructure and several outdated buildings, some shuttered, need updating, said Mayor Chris Johnson. Two studies have been completed of how best to beautify the streetscape, particularly in the corridor with the railroad tracks. The City of Elko now needs to decide how much capital to spend and how to fund the work. It also has been working on establishing an overlay code, which would make it easier to renovate and get old buildings up to code to compete with new construction.
“We’re working as a community to figure out what is the best mix to keep downtown looking vibrant,” Johnson added. “A lot of efforts are going into it. We certainly are all focused on doing what we can to keep Elko at its best.”
With a recent grant, the city is adding sidewalks and American Disabilities Act-compliant curbs. A committee is working on fundraising and planning for Elko’s 100th anniversary in 2017. Some buildings are being remodeled using private funds.
The state is also assisting Elko in sprucing up downtown. With federal funds, the Nevada Department of Transportation, as part of the Elko Urban Improvement Project, is installing along the entryways into town landscaping, historical landmarks pertaining to Elko’s past, new asphalt and curbed sidewalks.
Johnson said that a new trend is people moving into downtown. A developer recently remodeled a building on Idaho Street into apartments, and the units filled in no time, without advertising required.
“That’s a big demand,” Johnson said. “That’s one of the plans to revitalize downtown, to just get more people there.”
As Nevada’s cities concentrate on further developing downtowns, Mayor Crowell, perhaps, explains why best - “It boils down to one phrase: If you have a strong heart of your community, the rest of your community comes along as well,” he said.