PHOTO/FRANK X. MULLEN: Jacobs Entertainment bought 19 old motels and demolished them. Facsimiles of some of those motels' neon signs are now part of Glow Plaza in the Neon Line District development area.

Residents who took part in the Jan. 10 online forum about the planned Neon Line District heard lots of public relations’ spin — but few specifics — about the $1.8 billion project planned for a 10-block area bisected by Fourth Street in downtown Reno.

The project, the largest redevelopment effort in Reno’s history, has a 20-year timeline. Jacobs has been buying up parcels in the area since 2016 and has about $100 million invested so far, but the company has no master plan for the development. In addition, public comments were largely absent from the city’s planning and approval process for the 10-block Neon Line District.

Jacobs bought 19 old motels and so far has demolished most of them, leaving vacant lots along Fourth Street. Those weekly-rental motels for decades have been used as housing of last resort by low-income residents.

Hundreds attended online

The virtual public forum, broadcast on both Zoom and YouTube, drew more than 400 participants and viewers, city officials said. A video of the meeting is available on YouTube. Many of those who attended wanted to talk about the destruction of those 600 motel rooms and ask about Jacobs’ plans for up to “1,000 workforce and affordable housing units” that the company recently touted as a goal for the project.

Jacobs’ representatives at the meeting had no further details about the affordable housing component of the project. Specifics, they said, would be contingent on discussions with city officials, the Reno Housing Authority and others.

Jonathan Boulware, vice president of Nevada operations for a Jacobs Entertainment, told participants that razing the motels was beneficial, because those properties were unsafe and unhealthy for the individuals and families who lived there. He said Jacobs worked with any of the displaced residents who wanted help relocating and that the loss of the housing units did not contribute to the city’s homeless problem.

“Every single person who asked was put into a better situation,” Boulware said, adding that Jacobs was careful in making sure the displaced residents would be able to afford their new apartments and that they would have access to bus routes and other needs.

IMAGE/JACOBS ENTERTAINMENT: The Neon Line District is bounded by Interstate-80 in the north, West Second Street in the south, Keystone Avenue on the west and West Street on the east.

A skeptical audience

Those statements got some pushback from some of the participants in the forum.

“How can you say that destroying those motels didn’t contribute to homelsessness?” asked Matthew Wilke, who posted comments on the Zoom page. “Jacobs is personally responsible for kicking out the lowest income earners into the streets. Giving them a quick check to move is futile when there is no other housing (available).”

Others who took part in the forum agreed that ridding the city of the deteriorating motels was a positive development because it removed eyesores and got people out of dangerous living conditions. Some of those motels had no heat, no kitchens and were infested with vermin, they said.

IMAGES/ZOOM FORUM ON DEC. 10

Entertainment district

The development plan calls for an entertainment district anchored by two casinos owned by Jacobs Entertainment. The district also would presumably encompass hotels, shops, restaurants and condo towers. The district may include such amenities as a zip line like the one in downtown Las Vegas and an outdoor amphitheater, according to Jacobs’ representatives.

No detailed building plans have been submitted and, with the exception of some public artwork installed by Jacobs on West Fourth Street, the parcels have remained vacant lots.

Some proponents of the development said the vacant land that took the place of those motels has made the area safer for Reno residents and tourists, who can now walk on Fourth Street without fear of being accosted by bad actors.

PHOTO/FRANK X. MULLEN: One of the now-vacant lots in the Neon Line District development area, between Interstate-80 and West Fourth Street in Reno.

More forums promised

Ilya Arbatman of Reno, who is a member of the area’s neighborhood advisory board and also is an advocate for unsheltered people, said Jacobs’ plans for the district are no more than “fanciful dreams.” The public, he said, needs to see “some concrete plans.”

“We want to create an environment where people who are sitting around the kitchen table in Sacramento on a Saturday morning say, ‘Let’s get in the car and drive to Reno and see this exciting new development.’” — Jeff Jacobs, Neon Line District developer, quoted in the Wall Street Journal, July 2019.

Garrett said as further plans are made, more public meetings will be scheduled.

Miles Atwater of Reno, who tuned into the forum online, said the city needs to get the public involved, before, not after, further plans are up for approval. The forum, he said, gave residents a chance to sound off about decisions that the Reno City Council already made without the benefit of public input.

“(Jacobs’) position seems to be that ‘we’re doing a great job’ and that people who don’t agree are misinformed,” Atwater said. “They say ‘just trust us,’ but that’s not going to happen when the main motivator here is the enrichment of the developer, not the benefit to Reno.”

IMAGE/JACOBS ENTERTAINMENT: The developer wants to install an arch in the Neon Line District, but the design hasn’t been finalized.

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4 Comments

  1. I think it’s important to note that the main takeaway for residents anxious about developer shenanigans such as these is to take (or take back) direct citizen control of the planning process, beginning with neighborhood planning groups which form the backbone of planning. This has to occur early, is its own process, and before politicians and developers get their hands (and deep pockets) involved. The former, in obvious and inherent conflict of interest, are principally interested in expanding the tax base, while covering their tracks with nice platitudes. The developers, obviously, are all about the bottom line, regardless of whatever they say.
    Long after both are gone, the residents will be living with the results of their decisions.

  2. Its really disgusting to hear this developer talk about making Reno attractive to tourists. They are simply going to make Reno just like every other gentrified, homogenized, whitewashed, boring cities all over the USA. What makes cities interesting are their unique characteristics and one of Reno’s was the old school motels and hotels. Whoever says the area is now “safe from fear of being accosted by bad actors” is probably someone who never went to 4th street anyway. This just reeks of prejudice against low income people. No developer should be allowed to buy up this much land.

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