Monstrous erection

Last week in his opening remarks, editor D. B. Burghart wondered what would have to be done here in Reno to maintain the financial health of our gambling biz, an industry that we have leaned on without shame for about 70 years. He asked for reader suggestions as to the “huge, impossible dreams that would honestly change the nature of this town.”

OK, then, I’m ready to weigh in with a huge, impossible two cents worth. Hell, Pie in the Sky frequently is ordered for dessert in this space. And the first enormously preposterous and completely un-doable thing that pops into my head is a concept that D.B.B. himself mentioned, that of putting a lid on downtown Reno. (The “D” in front of Brian’s name, by the way, stands for “Doh!”)

Back in the early ’80s (Or was it the early ’90s? Late ’70s?), there was talk of doing just that: enclosing the core of downtown Reno from Fifth Street to the river running north/south, and Sierra through Center streets running east/west. The idea didn’t get close to becoming reality, mainly because of the fear that such a monstrous erection would mangle the historic and nostalgic charms of downtown Reno, a city which had enjoyed a healthy little run as one of America’s two great gambling towns in the ’40s, ’50s and ’60s. (Think on that for a second. Forty years ago, there were exactly two decent-sized gambling towns in the entire country—and we were one of ’em!)

Well, things have changed. Now there are about 849 gambling towns in the USA, and we feel like a triple-teamed flanker who can’t get any separation from all these pesky defensive backs.

Putting a lid on downtown no longer feels like the outrage it may have decades ago. The folks in Vegas will say we ripped off the concept of their own Fremont Street. They’d be exactly right. In fact, they’d probably wonder what took us so long. Let’s face it: downtown Reno is not all that charming or special. It’s not as ultra-horrid as some stuffy poots would have you believe, but it’s nothing special, either. Put another way, nobody’s traveling to Reno to soak in the enchantment of our core ambience. It’s reached a point where it could easily be considered expendable.

So what have we got to lose by putting a razzle-dazzle roof over a few square blocks of downtown, with a spiffy new pedestrian zone underneath? Who would ever miss the wind, the cold and the chugging, annoying, stop-and-go traffic? To overcome the years of our deteriorating image problem with Northern California, aren’t we going to have to do something rather spectacular? To overcome the challenge of increasingly convenient tribal gambling, aren’t we going to have to juice things up a bit?

Now, sure, money for something like this will quite likely be a hassle. It might even be utterly insurmountable. Then again, this is a city that managed to scrape up 260 million bucks to sink some railroad tracks.