Goodbye To The Sundowner
Seeing the Sundowner sign coming down got me thinking. I don't live downtown anymore, and these days I'm sort of out of the loop on where development is heading. Obviously at least one major renovation--Riverwalk Tower, at the site of the former Comstock Casino--has been completed and several others--Palladio, Montage, etc.--are well underway. But there are definite signs that not everything is hunky-dory. Downtown Makeover has gone out on a limb and declared the massive Waterfront project "unofficially dead" until someone proves otherwise. A lot of people, like Myrna the Mynx (correct me if I'm wrong, Mynx), had hoped that this would be a sort of signature piece of architecture for Reno. Other large and small projects that are still in their developmental stages seem to be stuck in limbo, although hard hard facts are sometimes difficult to come by.
But beyond numbers, what I wonder is whether or not the momentum of a couple of years ago has been lost. In mid-2004, when I first bought the little condo that I nicknamed The Fortress of Solitude in (now it can be revealed) Arlington Tower, I could sense the energy and the general sense of optimism in and around downtown Reno. That's why I chose to live there, rather than in some stucco apartment complex. Downtown had at one time been the sort of place where decent people tended not to go, but I and a lot of other folks were convinced that it was about to be reborn as a hip urban center, a sort of miniature Soho in the Sierras. A lot of pieces, like the Wingfield Kayak Park, the Nevada Museum of Art and the refurbished Riverwalk, were already in place. And when derelict casino after derelict casino was bought up for conversion into condos, I felt even further vindicated in my belief, even though I wondered from the very start whether or not there was enough real demand to fill these thousands of proposed living spaces.
These days, I don't feel that same energy that I did two years ago. Maybe it's the fact that I'm out of touch since I no longer live there, but I suspect that a few factors may be leading to a loss of enthusiasm for downtown redevelopment. One factor is that most of the condo projects completed or underway downtown are shooting for a pretty high-end market, which would seem to me to price out a lot of the young single professionals or service industry workers who would be most interested in living downtown. Another factor is that while a lot of great local business have sprung up and in some cases begun to thrive in the redevelopment zone, larger retailers and restaurants have (with some notable exceptions) stayed away, probably for fear that the downtown area has neither the residential population nor the economic base to support them. And then there's the general Reno malaise that I run into so often whenever I talk enthusiastically about some project that I think is positive for the region: The response I tend to get most often is "it won't work--this is Reno."
I'm not the most informed person on the issue of downtown redevelopment, and if you can't tell I'm kind of fishing to be told that I'm wrong on this. Anyone who remembers what the river front was like just three or four years ago knows that the improvements have been tremendous. But I can't help but feel that if you'd asked me in May of 2004 where I thought we'd be by October 2006, I'd have thought that we'd be a lot further along. I would have assumed that by now there would be thousand more people living downtown. I would have thought for sure that we'd have a grocery store, a drug store, and many more thriving local and nationally-known retailers and service providers doing business with and hopefully providing good jobs for those new local residents. And I would have assumed that a great many more construction and redesign projects would be completed or near completion. Some of this has happened, but the process has been agonizingly slow and much remains to be done.
I so want downtown Reno to become the sort of place I still believe it has the potential to be. I just can't escape the sinking feeling that a lot of the momentum has been lost over the last few months. I hate sounding like such a pessimist. Somebody, anybody, please tell me I'm wrong on this.