Reno mayor unveils 'Blight Buster' initiative to clean up motels in downtown corridor
Reno Mayor Hillary Schieve has been outspoken about her plan to remove blight in Reno and bring local motels up to code, but as developers renovate those businesses or demolish them all together, some are concerned about the thousands of people that could be displaced.
"This is truly redevelopment here," S3 Development Partner Blake Smith said as he watched his crews demolish an old motel on W. Fourth Street Wednesday morning. He said, "the city of Reno is changing and we want to be a part of it."
The start of construction on Wednesday morning also marked the unveiling of Mayor Schieve's "Blight Buster" initiative. She aims to remove eyesores and replace them with much-needed housing.
Schieve was on site for the demolition of the Wildflower Village motel.
She said, "it's one of those projects where you look at it and say, 'It's huge blight in our city and we're eradicating it.'"
The old motel has been vacant for six months, but thousands of people are still living in other motels across Reno.
While some of the businesses offer clean, affordable housing; other establishments have become rundown over the years and Mayor Schieve wants to see them cleaned up.
She said, "I want to send a clear message that the city is going to be aggressive. There are some certain things we can look at: how many code violations they've had and if they've had so many, then the city actually could take action to go into those properties, clean them up, and then leave the bill with the owner."
On Wednesday afternoon, the Reno City Council approved funding for a new building inspector specifically assigned to handle motels in Reno.
Several developers have already expressed interest in buying motels and redeveloping the properties. Schieve said, "I think you're going to start to see some of these people that are coming in purchase some of these motels and be able to offer a great business and something that is hip and funky."
But Reno is already experiencing a shortage of affordable housing and some worry that tearing down motels will only put more people on the streets.
"It has given me a place to live-- a clean place to live." David has been living in a Reno motel room for about a month and a half. He said, "there needs to be more help, affordable help. not just help, to help people get back on their feet."
Mayor Schieve said she's working with the Reno Housing Authority (RHA) to provide more affordable housing options. She said, "now more than ever, I mean, it's our job to provide a great quality of life and we want people to continue to live here."
Schieve said the city is looking into offering incentives for developers to build affordable housing units. She said she's also working with city officials to implement programs that would help relocate people who might be displaced if the motel they live in is under construction.
"My big concern is making sure that the people that are living there are not being forced out and then if they are, then we step in with RHA and relocate them and nothing could happen until we are able to provide relocation services."
Developer Jacobs Entertainment, Inc. just bought the Sands Casino and surrounding property. The owner of that company recently donated $1.5 million to the Reno Housing Authority. A representative from RHA said that money will be used exclusively for affordable housing projects in Reno.