The largest downtown Reno redevelopment project ever proposed would cost more than $1.2 billion, take about 10 years to build and include the tallest building in the city, a self-contained water reclamation system, three acres of tree canopy, gigabit internet, a central park, public art and everything needed to make a completely sustainable district.
"We want to reshape what Reno is," said Susan Clark, principal for the development. "The tallest building defines your city."
Right now, the Silver Legacy Casino Resort is the tallest building in the city at 42 stories tall, according to Silver Legacy officials.
Principal developer, Don Clark, said he wants the billion dollar West 2nd District project to turn Reno into a city others compare themselves to instead of Reno always comparing itself to other cities. Not without a sense of optimism, the holding company for the West 2nd District project is Secundo Vita LLC, which means "second life" in latin.
"This is our home, we want to build the best home for us and everyone else," he said. “We’ve got one chance to make this a great city and it’s now."
The Don J Clark Group, an architecture and development firm, will present their enormous plan for West 2nd District to Reno City Council for two hours today. The Clarks are requesting a due diligence report on them, their partners and land acquisitions. They are also asking the city for a development agreement. At the same time the first phase of the project, a 28-unit condominium, is breaking ground at 235 Ralston St. this week.
The requested development agreement includes a unique tax increment fund that would allow them to spend about $49 million on infrastructure improvements in the surrounding neighborhood right away instead of in a few years. If their project builds and performs well, at their estimated $100 million property tax increase over the next 8 to 10 years before the Reno Redevelopment Area expires, they would expect the city of Reno to reimburse them at the end of the project. If it does not perform, they would not receive reimbursement.
"We want to develop a project that reimagines how the city works with developers," said Colin Robertson, partner and the director of communications and strategy at Don J Clark Group. "(Reno) has suffered from hodgepodge development."
Those proposed infrastructure improvements include:
- Streetscape and amenities
- Relocation of UNR Nelson Building and Greyhound bus station
- Storm drainage
"We're not putting that money toward our bottom line," Susan Clark said.
RGJ reporter Anjeanette Damon explains the tax increment funding and financial trade offs in greater detail in her story: Developers to ask for $100 million tax subsidy to help redevelop downtown Reno
In an exclusive interview with the RGJ, the Clarks and Robertson broke down their proposal into all of its pieces.
While the entire project only takes up 17 acres of west downtown Reno, the height of the various condos, hotels, apartments and office buildings match or rival the city's current skyline.
For reference, Park Lane Mall, recently purchased by Chip Bowlby, is 47 acres. The entire casino core of downtown Reno takes up a similar 47 acres. On the Las Vegas Strip, the CityCenter complex with similar mixed use takes up 67 acres and includes eight times more square footage. So the footprint of West 2nd District is relatively small by comparison to other projects.
But, in downtown, no other development has approached this price tag. The Silver Legacy, the most expensive development in the last 25 years, reportedly cost $230 million in 1992 (approx. $390 million adjusting for inflation today). The price tag, including construction, labor and land, might be closer to $1.4 billion, according to calculations by the University of Nevada, Reno's Center for Regional Studies.
Robertson said these numbers are subject to evolve, but as the proposed project stands, these are the important stats that would increase density in downtown:
- 2.3 million square feet of residential space
- That equates to approximately 1,900 residential units, including 500 apartments, condominiums and various types of affordable housing
- 450,000 square feet of office space
- 250,000 square feet of retail
- Two non-gaming hotels
- 5,000 parking spaces spread out across several parking garages
If approved, the Clarks said they plan to roll this development out in six phases over the next decade. They want to watch the market and evolve the concepts, buildings, use mix and overall vision. Robertson said the above numbers come with a huge caveat that everything is subject to change depending on the market's needs over that decade. They would not give a final number of buildings, though a count of the renderings shows almost 30 separate structures.
The tallest building is slated for a towering 40 stories — though the developers reserve the right to tack on a few more to overtake the Silver Legacy's 42 when construction starts on phase two.
Clark said the entire West 2nd District would use four major sustainable technologies: a central heating and cooling plant, water reclamation, solar panels and seismic engineering to improve earthquake safety.Don Clark said his team has been developing this idea since the recession with a focus on sustainability, live-work-play, walkability, green space and future-proofing technology. Most importantly, he said he is not pioneering any new technology, but taking the best practices from other successful projects in other cities.
The central plant will be built during phase two when the tallest building is constructed. The central plant is a multi-story heating and cooling center meant to provide hot and cold water for the entire district. The purpose is to significantly reduce energy costs for residents and wrap their heating and cooling bills into one energy bill.
During the same phase, a central park would be constructed where the current Osher Lifelong Learning Institute and its parking lot sit now. Underneath the park, a large-scale water reclamation center will recycle and reclaim grey and brown water into potable water. It will work similarly to a city-sized water treatment plant. The Clarks have not yet determined how much water can stay in the system and how much will need to recharge the Truckee River, but the goal is to create a significantly reduced water footprint and return clean water to the river midstream instead of downstream. The water can be used by residents, but also to irrigate the many green spaces throughout the district.
Through the district, Robertson said they plan to build up to four acres of solar panels to help offset energy needs.
The Clarks are requesting several alley and street abandonments from the city. The plan for the district is to convert those to walking, sitting, retail areas with ample tree coverage. What is now Stevenson Street would become a no-car walkway leading north to the central park from the Truckee River in front of the Lear Theater.
They've completed traffic studies and worked with the Regional Transportation Commission to determine best ways to adjust east-west traffic on First and Second streets.
Miyamoto International, a seismic engineering company from Japan, opened an office in Reno to help with construction of the district.
“In areas of high seismic vulnerability like Los Angeles and Reno, we can engineer buildings that perform much better very cost effectively,” CEO Kit Miyamoto said in a March 9 interview with the RGJ. “If you follow minimum code, it essentially gives you a ‘one earthquake’ building. We design buildings to remain operational after the event.”
Each building, particularly the tallest, would be built with this state-of-the-art engineering.
Robertson said fiberoptic gigabit-speed internet will be built into the entire project from day one by CC Communications. Portions of downtown Reno already include gigabit internet for businesses, such as the Reno Collective. Gigabit-speed internet is about 10 times faster than current broadband internet. Most importantly, it allows simultaneous high-speed access — an important part of a dense district with a single connection.
The entire rest of the district would use smart technologies to connect people to each other and their work and live spaces. The parking garages, for example, assume the growth of autonomous vehicles will lesson the need for parking, so they can be converted to urban agricultural spaces if that happens.
Robertson will focus on creating programs for public art acquisition and commission throughout the district. As part of the project, the Clarks want to help rehabilitate the Lear Theater after that restoration project stalled.
The project does not include, and purposely works around, the two churches in the area: Saint Thomas Aquinas Cathedral nor First United Methodist Church.
Much of western downtown is undeveloped, empty land. To build this project over time, the Clarks are consolidating all 17 acres of land into one ownership. This includes the OLLI school, Castaway Inn, Town House Motor Lodge, Seven Eleven Motor Lodge, Greyhound bus station, Reno Riviera Motel, Gibson Apartments, Whitewater Park Apartments, Easy Market and several houses and other residential buildings.
In total, the Clarks tallied 237 residential units between weekly motels and apartments that would be torn down to make way for the redevelopment.
The purpose of the tax increment fund is to increase property taxes to generate money for the city. A development of this size that tears down residential buildings and forces low-income residents to move to replace them with middle or high-income earners is the very definition of gentrification.
Of the residential properties, Secundo Vita owns the Town House Motor Lodge so far, according to Washoe County Assessor records. Susan Clark said they own or control 94 percent of the properties and the records are behind. While an agreement with the city would require Secundo Vita to relocate all displaced residents, the Clarks said they planned to do that and more.
Within the first year of the project, the Clarks said they would relocate a third of those residents as the weekly motels start to come down.
They also want to include three types of affordable housing in their project: subsidized affordable housing, workforce housing made affordable through pricing and active senior housing.
Another 70 percent of the condominiums are expected to qualify for Nevada Home is Possible program — a down payment grant. Their presentation to the city lists a breakdown of 20 percent apartments for those earning 80 percent of the region's median income. That median income is slightly below $45,000 per year in Reno-Sparks.
Cathexes, an architecture company within the redevelopment area owned by Don Clark, hosted the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's affordable housing forum April 7. The main takeaways from the forum were that very little public money is available in Northern Nevada to support affordable housing and the region is in severe shortage of affordable housing. The Reno Housing Authority and HUD are both looking for private partnerships to help fill the gap.
The forum demonstrated new tools to finance workforce housing and create inclusionary zoning — a way to combine various income types within a master planned housing development. It also demonstrated the incredible need to support the chronically homeless and people earning 60 percent of the median income.
While the Clarks did not list step-by-step plans for their approach to solving these complex issues, they said they were committed to incorporating these tools into their project vision.
They are also aware that even the announcement of their idea today could immediately cause rising rents and property values in the surrounding neighborhoods and the rest of the city. As the economy continues to improve, Reno grows and the housing inventory in the region shrinks. The inevitable affect is increasing rents and home prices.
An Urban Land Institute presentation showed severe mismatch in Reno's housing and rental types, with a high level of class C apartments in terrible shape. Presenters said the Reno-Sparks rent prices are alarming, since those same class C apartments cost more than $800 per month.
The Clarks said, for this reason, they plan to listen to residents in the area to find out their needs.
Don J Clark Group Public Open Houses at 250 Bell St. (Cathexes)
Thursdays, 12 p.m. to 1 p.m.:
- April 28: Overview
- May 5: Design
- May 12: Infrastructure
- May 19: Community
- May 26: Technology
- June 2: West 2nd Life
Saturdays, 2 p.m. to 4 p.m.
- April 30: W2 Walking Tour
- May 7: W2 Walking Tour
- May 14: W2 Walking Tour
- May 21: W2 Walking Tour
- May 28: None Memorial Day Weekend
- June 4: W2 Walking Tour