As the wrecking ball turns

Will Barney Ng do something with the emptiness that was once the Mapes?

It’s been a year since the blow-up, and the Mapes Hotel lot is still empty.

It’s been a year since the blow-up, and the Mapes Hotel lot is still empty.

Photo By Debra Reid

Nearly one year after the Mapes was destroyed, a vacant lot still sits at 10 N. Virginia St. When the dust settled from the demolition of the 52-year-old historic building, city officials promised that a developer would build some type of entertainment attraction there.

Last year, three developers came to the council with proposals calling for a $624-room, $150 million hotel-casino, time-share condos and riverfront attractions. The City Council ultimately chose San Leandro developer Barney Ng of Wild Game Ng to place specialty retail outlets and other attractions for locals and tourists alike at the site.

Ng was supposed return to the Reno City Council this fall with an agreement, but the deadline passed for Ng’s proposal. City officials say that staff is working with Ng on putting together an agreement. One item that was under discussion was an ice rink at the site, but no definite plans have been formally announced. To date, the city has not set a deadline to develop the former Mapes site, which is still owned by Reno. Ng has paid a $100,000 refundable deposit for the property.

One reason for the delay is Ng’s priority for his other projects along the riverfront, said Don Kajuns, CEO of Wild Game Ng.

“Our focus is to get the Siena open first,” Kajuns said.

Kajuns said he anticipates an August opening for the Italian villa-style riverfront resort being built in place of the Holiday Hotel, not far from the vacant lot that was the Mapes. He said Ng has changed designs and expanded the Siena “to make it better.”

The former Mapes site is at the bottom of a priority list of river corridor projects, including the development of an area south of the Truckee River and the Riverside block, Kajuns said. One of the difficulties with developing the site is the remains of the Mapes, which were never fully extracted by demolition crews after the building’s implosion.

“We have to remove the foundation,” Kajuns said.

Also, Clauss Construction, the Mapes demolition crew, did not extract some of the lower elements due to cost constraints, said a city official who declined to be named, and there is a dispute over who should pay for the removal.

Some Reno officials worry that Ng missing the deadline is an indication that the developer will ultimately back out of the Mapes site. San Diego developer OliverMcMillan struggled for three years to formulate a plan to develop the Mapes and other riverfront properties known as the “mid block” before the city council awarded these sites to new developers.

Kajuns said he resents the comparison to OliverMcMillan and other developers that the city has worked with in the past, noting that Ng has invested nearly $30 million of his own money along the river corridor.

“To compare him to OliverMcMillan is a disservice,” Kajuns said. “We are fully committed to developing the riverfront. There has been no discussion of stepping away.”

Reno spokesman Chris Good said that, despite the delays, the city sees Ng as a positive force in keeping the ball rolling to successfully redevelop the downtown area.

The Mapes as it was.

Photo By Debra Reid

“We are confident in the success in all of his projects in downtown Reno,” Good said.

But at least one City Council member still questions the logic of destroying the landmark.

Newly elected Reno City Councilwoman Toni Harsh said she has requested from city staff all of the contracts pertaining to the former Mapes site. Harsh led efforts to save the historic building and was one of four preservationists who sued the city for violating the open meeting law in deliberating on the Mapes’ demolition.

She reiterated comments she made last year prior to being elected to the council.

“Unless you have an approved project and financing, to [have voted] for demolition was acting arbitrarily and capriciously,” she said.

Last year, numerous protests were held to forestall the Jan. 30 demolition. An effigy of Mayor Jeff Griffin was hung and a campaign to recall the mayor kicked off. Weekly vigils were held in front of the historic building.

Before the city awarded Ng with the 10 N. Virginia St. site, it held a forum to garner public input as to what would go in place of the Mapes.

Respondents expressed a desire for open space and access to the river. One proposal even called for a park to be put on the 44,000-square-foot site. But city officials seemed determined to find a project that would ultimately generate revenue.

Nan Rassu, another preservationist leader, said she refuses to go downtown anymore because of the stagnant condition of the former Mapes site.

“There is a pronounced sense of sadness,” Rassu said. “It seems a terrible shame to tear down a monument with nothing in mind.”

She agreed with the park idea for the site.

“The people would like to see the river banks green instead filled with buildings,” she said.

The saga of the Mapes may have had some impact on last year’s City Council elections. Several challengers accused council incumbents of violating open meeting rules. Some tied the Mapes to other perceived failures in the city’s redevelopment agency.

The issue may resurface this year as Assemblywoman Vivian Freeman, D-Reno, introduces a bill in this year’s legislative session that would clarify the state open meeting law. And, in March, the City Council will consider renewal of City Manager Charles McNeely’s contract.

Rassu said the city should carefully consider what to build in the Mapes’ place.

“If the city finds a project that is architecturally pleasing, evokes municipal pride and enhances the river, then it could bring more people downtown," she said.