An interesting development

Sobering news about the Golden Phoenix Hotel Casino & Resort going condo. In case you missed the news, as reported in the Reno Gazette-Journal on Aug. 1, “out-of-state developers” have applied for a permit to convert the 604-room casino into 388 residential units with three commercial spaces and a health club.

It’s sobering news for several reasons. First, it’s yet another major gambling property closing in downtown Reno, and while the mainstream media report its closure as though it’s great news that all those dealing, bartending, porter, cage, housekeeping and cocktailing jobs are being lost to the less labor-intensive high-rise condominiums, it’s a blow to the diversity of our tourism offering and to the lives of its workers.

It’s a rather shocking blow, actually, as the Phoenix seemed on the rise. You’ve got to wonder whether, if the Reno City Council had made real progress on downtown redevelopment even a few years earlier, the Golden Phoenix—or the Comstock or the Sundowner—would have survived as cylinders in the area’s tourism engine.

Observers of the downtown situation have also got to wonder if some of the last two years worth of downtown construction—including the construction of ReTRAC, road repair and the new events center—couldn’t have been more judiciously spread around. At times, it seemed the construction was calculated to prevent even locals from getting to the casinos and businesses that weren’t placed directly on Virginia Street.

There are undoubtedly positive aspects to having more residents living downtown—after all, it was running the local businesses and residents out of downtown that began the area’s decline. Most of our city’s leadership has said the repopulation of downtown would be the real linchpin to redevelopment’s success. And who would have thought L3 Development out of Chicago would ever be able to sell 388 condos in a former casino for $350,000 each? That’d be a lot of tax money to go to schools and the infrastructure for those families living downtown if it weren’t part of a redevelopment district. But then, it is certainly redevelopment.

There are other opportunities for speculation as well. It seems another large piece of that block between Virginia and Sierra streets and Commercial Row and Second Street may be up for grabs, and it seems bigger works better on Virginia Street—developments on the north half of that block might bear watching.

The last piece of conjecture seems to be, around this office at any rate, who’s next? It doesn’t seem that there are many tourism-oriented businesses left downtown that appear vulnerable to the vagaries of tourism and California’s Indian gaming, and much of the construction in that area should be reaching completion before the new year. Is it possible that this is the darkness before the dawn, and the Golden Phoenix will live up to its metaphorical reputation?