Reno needs to support West Street Market

To learn more about Reno’s historic anti-preservation tendencies, check out Alicia Barber’s book, Reno’s Big Gamble: Image and Reputation in the Biggest Little City.

Reno can be a very depressing place for those of us who love historic architecture. Yes, we have managed to preserve some very nice old buildings—the courthouse, the old Riverside hotel, McKinley School, Imperial Bar & Lounge. Many more languish under boarded-up windows or scabby outer crusts of once-modern facades, tacky signage and glittering lights. One day, these could be polished up and restored to provide downtown Reno with the kind of desirable street-level urban storefront mix that is the hallmark of successful urban cores. But that can’t happen without leadership, community support and a historic shift in our political will.

Far more than these are left only as photographs and memories, razed not only by bulldozers but the strange, generations-long hostility of Reno power brokers to the physical reminders of the city’s past. Renoites, it seems, would prefer open parking lots and slabs of concrete to preserving our historic, unique architecture. Many readers will recall that our fair city made a name for itself by being the first in the world to demolish a building listed on the National Historic Register—the Mapes Hotel.

Cities that successfully recreate vibrant downtowns and urban cores do so by adaptive reuse of old buildings and judicious new construction. Cities that raze and rebuild doom themselves to planned obsolescence.

This is why I have been a fan of the West Street Market and why I am dismayed by the city’s current apparent hostility toward the project. WSM represents the kind of adaptive reuse of old buildings so rare in Reno’s history. In its original design, the market was meant to provide an urban revitalization linchpin between the Montage on Second Street and the Riverwalk. But the Market had an unlucky start coinciding with the economic downturn and especially the failure of the condominium developments to live up to their promise. It has never quite been completed—the floor needs to be resurfaced, and one of the original design concepts including glass-front garage doors on the south-facing courtyard never happened. With the city’s massive budget cuts, the WSM manager lost her position. Consequently the WSM competes for attention and grant dollars with publicly-funded businesses around the Aces ballpark. West Street Market tenants have been working to fill in the gaps but find themselves stymied by shifting rules and regulations, failures of communication, and distrust from city officials, not to mention much higher-than-average rents.

Despite its problems, West Street Market represents more than the uncharacteristic attempt at historic preservation. As a venue it stimulates small-scale, local talent. Rick Martinez’s West Street Wine Bar provides a unique “third place” space for conversation and connection without the distractions of televisions and video poker. The market’s power needs are offset by the wind towers and solar panels on the top of the Sierra parking garage. It is the kind of green, sustainable, small-scale, local development that downtown Reno desperately needs right now.

I know it is difficult to make development choices when funds are nonexistent. But if the city continues to turn its back on the West Street Market, and it fails, it will be remembered as another case study of why Reno doesn’t restore old architecture, can’t build green, can’t support small local businesses. It will have a long-term dampening effect on our city’s redevelopment options.

The last time I wrote about the Market, many readers wrote in with brilliant ideas to improve the situation. To everyone who would like to continue that conversation, please direct your ideas and comments to City Councilman Dave Aiazzi: <script type="text/javascript" language="javascript">{ document.write(String.fromCharCode(60,97,32,104,114,101,102,61,34,109,97,105,108,116,111,58,97,105,97,122,122,105,64,114,101,110,111,46,103,111,118,34,62,97,105,97,122,122,105,64,114,101,110,111,46,103,111,118,60,47,97,62)) } </script>, 775-334-2016.

Note: Columnist Huntley is a board member and officer of Nevada EcoNet, a tenant of West Street Market. She also organized WSM’s weekly Outdoor Market for Sustainable Micro-enterprise.