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Business owners may hinder downtown Reno development

Reno has big plans to revitalize downtown, but not all the business owners may be on board.

That's especially true on one block in downtown Reno, just off the strip. On 2nd Street, from Virginia Street to Sierra Street, you'll see boarded up buildings, for sale signs, lease signs and plenty of closed signs.

On the north side, every single store is closed. On the south side of Second Street, every business but two has moved out.

One of those open businesses is Pizza Reno. Bob Martini has owned it for a dozen years.

"That's an eyesore across the street, that's an eyesore there, they ought to tear them all down... The one on the corners vacant too," said Martini as he pointed to the businesses next to his.

Martini said the closed businesses around him hurt his business. Customers just don't come down Second Street.

"It's a tough business to be downtown," he said. "The more businesses, the more people."

And it's not just the blight, but the stench too. The homeless hang out on the doorsteps of the closed shops. It smells like urine and trash. As the weather warms up, it's almost unbearable. It's not luring in tourists.

"I think it's an eyesore... They need to knock every one down one by one and rebuild them," said Reno resident Derrick Pillors.

But the city can't do that. The buildings are privately owned. Reno keeps talking about talking about revitalizing downtown, but it has little power if the building owners won't or can't play along with the plan.

The real estate agent whose name is on sign in the window of the large building at the northwest corner of Virginia and Second said the owner of the building has "big plans" for it, but wasn't willing to disclose them yet. The building on the northeast corner of Second and Sierra is a different story.

Michelle and Shannon Dobbs bought the building in 2012 and opened Rise Nightclub. But a little more than a year later, in 2013, a pipe burst and flooded the building.

"Authorization for repairs never came through from the insurance companies. Three and a half years later and we lost the niche that was Rise Nightclub," said Michelle Dobbs.

They'd like to rebuild, but they're still working with the insurance company, all the while dreaming of what they'd like to do next.

"We'd like to see the upper floors developed for subsidized housing and commercial on the ground floor," Michelle Dobbs said.

The couple believes in staying in downtown.

"Our heart is in revitalizing downtown," she said.

The city said none of the businesses on Second Street are closed because of code violations. There are no permits for any improvements here either.

Vice Mayor Neoma Jardon, who represents the district on the Reno City Council, said in a statement many downtown businesses are reinvesting in their properties to fight blight, but others are not interested in helping the city improve downtown.

She said the city is watching Senate Bill 24 closely in the Nevada Legislature. The bill would enable cities to enact ordinances requiring registration of vacant properties. Cities could charge a fee and could assign a special assessment that could result in a forced sale of the property. The bill is only in committee right now.

For now, the city can't force the business owners to develop their buildings. Downtown is stuck with the blight until the owners decide to do something about it.

Statement from Vice Mayor Jardon about the Downtown Reno and Second Street area:

"The Reno City Council has been working diligently to revitalize the downtown Reno area. If you've visited the area recently, you will notice positive changes to the downtown corridor, specifically along Virginia Street, where the City demolished blighted motels and temporarily replaced them with beautiful art from the Playa.
Many Downtown business owners are reinvesting in their properties and helping the City Council fight blight on a daily basis.
The City Council is aware that there are still opportunities for improvement, and while there's no quick fix, I can assure you that we are working on our strategic goal to create a vibrant downtown and university district.
It is our hope that business and property owners will work with us to fulfill our vision of a vibrant downtown.
However, some property owners are not interested in helping us achieve this goal, opting instead to hold on to vacant or blighted properties that could be sold or repurposed. Vacant and abandoned properties lead to blight, burden City services and are a significant hindrance to the City's priority of revitalizing downtown.
The City Council will be working with state legislators during the 2017 Nevada Legislative session to ask for more tools to assist our hard-working code enforcement officers, who keep our City safe and up-to-code.
One of those tools is Senate Bill 24 (SB 24), or the Vacant Property Registration Bill. SB 24 would enable cities to enact ordinances requiring the registration of vacant properties within an identified area, such as downtown Reno. If passed, the legislation would allow cities to define vacancy, charge a fee, require a local contact and collect owed fees/penalties as a special assessment that could ultimately result in a forced sale of the property. The City of Reno continues to work with stakeholders and legislators on this bill. If passed, SB 24 could be another tool to deal with downtown properties and blight. It will result in better communication with owners due to the requirement for a local contact.
The City of Reno is also working to adopt a Downtown Action Plan. The City Council has been working with the Progressive Urban Management Associates (PUMA) since April of 2016, and is getting close to adopting a final version of the Downtown Action Plan.
The plan will provide a framework for addressing short- and mid-term opportunities to make downtown safer and to market new offerings. This could also help recruit new investment downtown.
The Downtown Action Plan also calls for the creation of Downtown Management Organization. The organization would create a public-private partnership that would serve to champion downtown revitalization.
The Reno City Council anticipates approving the final Downtown Action Plan in April 2017."

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