When progress goes backward

Progress is a difficult word. The word seems to have a positive-enough definition, basically “a movement forward.” When a casino in downtown Reno closes, later to become living spaces for contributing members of society, many people call that “progress.” When a downtown historic hotel casino closes, sits idle and then falls under the wrecking ball in order to become a monument to those who destroyed the historic hotel, many people call that progress. When a vista of rocky crags, sagebrush and dirt becomes the newest high-end, cookie-cutter housing development, some people call that progress. When a historic hotel-casino becomes a home for artists, some people call that progress.

Do you see? Progress is in the eye of the beholder. Those folks downtown who have a place to live are undoubtedly correct in their assessment. Those folks who prefer monuments to decrepit hotels, too, are happy with their project. And those rattlesnakes, jackrabbits and sagebrush, well, there’s nobody here who can really remember what that vista looked like anyway, and if they complain, it’s just yakking about “the good old days.”

It’s not hard to find the other hand in this argument. But when you look around Northern Nevada, it seems too often “progress” is just a synonym for “ruin.”

The way the definition of progress can shift on us can be seen in downtown Sparks. At one time, redevelopers in the downtown were moving residents and homes out. Now they’re trying to lure them back. The one was considered progress at the time; the other is considered progress now.

Sparks’ newest plan by its redevelopment agency seems to be a step backward, reminiscent of the downtown Sparks that existed in the years before Karl Burge created the concept of the Victorian Gambling Hall, back in the day when Victorian Avenue was B Street and there were homes and small businesses for the people who lived in those homes to patronize.

According to a release from Sparks Redevelopment Agency, phase one of the new Sparks redevelopment plan could include 200 townhouses and live-work units with parking. It also incorporates at least two restaurants in front of the Century 14 Cinema and valet parking. Phase two includes City Hall and civic uses above and adjacent to retail space along Victorian Avenue and Victorian Square Plaza. The ground floor would be dedicated to small retail shops and restaurants. Phase three will depend on what the development needs. It may include a civic/retail/residential mix with public gardens and structured parking.

This step backwards toward a more traditional downtown mirrors what seems to be happening in downtown Reno, although Sparks timing of the phases seems more straightforward: Put in the people, and the business will come.

Sparks’ downtown redevelopment has had a long haul, and it would be premature to declare any victory for Sparks until the City Council, presumably, votes in favor of the project on June 13 and buildings are actually under construction, but putting the emphasis on people is a good way to begin.

And that’s progress.