Lofty ideas, hard choices

Really, the best thing about Denver-based developer BCN’s proposal for a 12-story condo tower downtown on the banks of the Truckee River is that a Reno architect helped design it. We tend to favor locals when it comes to rebuilding downtown. We like someone who knows us and loves what’s left of our historic architecture (Virginia Street Bridge, the Riverside and sepia-toned photos of the Mapes).

Reno architect Larry Henry worked with BCN on the condo project that’s now expanded to 13 stories and called The Palladio.

But Henry’s on the other side of the table now for a project on the other side of the river.

Henry presented a new condo project, for the vacant lot between the Riverside Artist Lofts and Center Street, during Monday’s joint meeting of the Reno City Council and the Redevelopment Agency Board (two legal entities, same seven people).

On Monday, the council/board first gave a final stamp of approval to The Palladio and BCN. The redevelopment agency had spent something like $1.6 million on that property and sold it to BCN for $275,000—quite a deal for the developer. But the city will be making some dough in taxes. In about six years, it’ll be square.

On the bright side, the redevelopment agency has learned a thing or two. Instead of free parking for life to the businesses that lease retail space in The Palladio, there’ll be two-hour customer validations at a cost of 5 cents per square foot. And should the developers fail to lease out the retail space speedily—think of those empty storefronts in the Century Riverside building—a “go dark” clause in the contract allows the city to lease the space and find tenants on its own.

Will The Palladio be a success? Seems likely, given that BCN President Craig Nassi says half the condo’s units are already spoken for. Who wouldn’t want to live downtown in a $200,000 luxury condo complete with health club, spa and a pool overlooking the Truckee?

No wonder Nassi wants the land across the river. He’d pay the city $225,000 and spend $13.4 million to build another condo tower—eight stories with 58 units.

At first, this seems perfect. Of six developers contacted to build across the river, only two created plans: BCN and Frederick Cavendish, a Reno guy.

BCN has plenty of experience with multi-use projects. Cavendish owns some properties in town, but he’s never done anything like this.

That’s why the city staffers recommended BCN.

Simple, right?

Of course not. For starters, a dozen or more residents of the Artists Lofts were hanging out in the back of council chambers. About 22 others filled out public-comment cards in opposition to BCN’s proposal. Some decried BCN’s proposal as “dull, boring and uninspired” or “a self-important square box” or “a cliché project” that reveals Reno as “an anti-supporter of the arts.”

What do the artists want?

Enter Henry, who’s no longer on the BCN team because of a disagreement over contracts, he explains. He’s got a lovely $9.2 million condo concept, which meanders more than it towers, has only 32 units and is, at its highest, six stories. The design fits the look of the Lofts and earned the support of the Historic Resource Commission. Henry says retailers are already interested in leasing space.

Henry’s on the “inexperienced” Cavendish team, along with developer David Dahl, who did the vacant homes and long-empty office building over by the Sparks Marina. (To be fair, 50 of the 59 homes had been sold as of November, and about two-thirds of the office space is leased.) Dahl is currently working on a $30 million condo complex by The Pit Formerly Known as Helms.

Faced with the two projects, the Reno council/redevelopment board decided Monday not to decide—just yet. I don’t envy them. It’s going to be a tough call.