View from the fray

Giving the trench some love

Mayor Jeff Griffin received a standing ovation from many in the audience at his very last State of the City address. His annual speech has changed over the years since the first one I attended in 1997. That address was held in Wingfield Park. It got off to a late start, causing the mayor to rush through his many optimistic predictions for the future. I still have a photograph of an older fellow sound asleep on a folding chair at the front of the audience.

My, how things have changed. You’ve got to hand it to Griffin and City Manager Charles McNeely. Just as Griffin’s annual address has gotten classier and seems more, well, put together, so does the city. I know that saying this will piss off the Griffin critics, but really. Downtown looks better. The theater wasn’t my first choice for the space by the river, but it turned out to be a wonderful addition to downtown. I spend more time drinking coffee, going to films, wandering around and shopping downtown than I ever would have imagined five years ago.

It’s because of this that I listened carefully to Griffin’s pitch for the trench. Just to give the idea a chance. Here’s what the mayor said Thursday, after some cheerleading about the city’s financial health via growth in sales tax revenues and assessed valuations:

“In order to keep this good news coming, we need to make smart, calculated public investments as well. One example of this is the ReTRAC project. We’ve studied it for 65 years. Its time has come. The pieces have come together to make financing it possible, and now we’re waiting for the final design-build contracts in July. Local taxpayers contribute only $12.50 a year in sales tax. We have leveraged that into over $200 million for the project. The chairman of the House Transportation Committee, U.S. Representative Don Young, is supporting an additional $15 million federal investment to put a cover over the trench, creating a new space for cultural events right downtown. And when he says he’ll put $15 million toward the project, you can count on it. There are going to be jobs and paychecks that will fuel more than $330 million in spending at local businesses. What I’m saying is that those dollars for ReTRAC will not leave our community. They stay right here. … In the long term, the project will improve investment opportunities in downtown Reno and will finally heal the scar that runs right through our economic heart downtown.”

As a person who often waits at train crossings in downtown, I have mixed feelings. I’m pretty convinced that moving the tracks to the I-80 corridor just ain’t going to happen, and that a few underpasses and overpasses several blocks from downtown aren’t going to do much good. So these days, as the Reno City Council tries to figure out what to do with the citizen initiative with nearly 12,000 valid signatures of people who want to vote on the matter, I’m thinking trench—or nothing.

What’ll you have?