One vision for downtown

From coast to coast, New York to Los Angeles, Reno is thought of as a latrine. That is the nation’s perception of our beautiful city. At least, that’s the takeaway message from the feature stories that ran Sunday in the New York Times, “With Gambling in Decline, a Faded Reno Tries to Reinvent Itself,” and the Los Angeles Times, “Nevada isn’t a sure bet for Obama.”

We’ve written about this a hundred times, and this isn’t the kind of validation we needed, but let’s talk about it again, and again, we’ll propose our solution.

Downtown Reno is the most memorable thing most tourists see in Reno. Since the vast majority of people who visit stay in hotels, and our hotel rooms are primarily downtown, it is a necessity. Downtown Reno is the first and last impression people have of our town. They may see the mountains, lakes, river, suburbs, ski slopes and biking trails in between, but the first and last impression they have of our town is of a toilet: at least 13 closed hotels, businesses and casinos downtown; drug dealers, panhandlers and wastrels; and of the open casinos, at least two appear to be siphoning out the last of the profits and not maintaining or upgrading their properties before they pull out of town.

And that’s those property owners’ prerogative: Take the money and run. But it is not the prerogative of Renoites. We have choices, but as long as our elected officials are carrying water for the casinos instead of for us, things are going to continue to deteriorate.

If Reno wants to represent itself as an outdoor destination, an outdoor destination must be the predominate impression visitors have of Reno.

If Reno wants to represent itself as a haven for high-end businesses, a haven for high-end businesses must be the predominate impression visitors have of Reno.

Both these impressions have the same solution, but it seems our elected officials are too cowardly to take it: Shut down Virginia Street from the south side of Sixth Street to the river, leaving Sixth, Fourth and Second streets open to east-west traffic. Make Sierra and Center streets two-way traffic. Put a layer of soil down on the closed streets.

Does anyone believe Apple is going to tolerate traffic not being able to reach their downtown operation because of whatever “special” event is going on that week? They will not. Having Second, Fourth, Sixth, Sierra and Center streets open at all times will alleviate this fundamental business infrastructure issue.

And then what? How about grass, trees, flowers, shrubs, shade, bicycle access, walking paths, and subtle emergency access? How about gas-lit lamps for evenings, or a fountain like the one at the theater in Sparks? How about a beer garden or a patio for coffee consumption? How about a stage and amphitheater on that pad over the train trench or turn the stage at Harrah’s toward Reno’s new Central Park? The casinos could have much improved “special” events from now until the zombie apocalypse.

These improvements would cost one-tenth, if that, of what it cost to redo Virginia Street this spring.

The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times could not see the simple fact that most of Reno was built and rebuilt in the last 20 years and not faded at all. By necessity, they looked at the only faded part of our city and reported the truth. Just as tens of thousands of bowlers will return home and report the same thing. Why? Because it’s the truth.

But it doesn’t have to be.