For more than 3 years, Downtown Reno Partnership has been planning its growth

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Downtown Reno Partnership Ambassador Donald Griffin, left, helps a homeless man cross a crosswalk on Evans Street and East 4th Street in downtown Reno. Photo: MD Welch / Depth of field photography


In 2018, when Zachary Cage, Michael Connolly, and Chris Kahl took over a tenant space at West 3rd Street in downtown Reno – which eventually became their fourth tavern, Shim’s Surplus Supplies – they quickly saw issues with some without – shelter and people passing through.

“There was a problem almost daily with stuff like drug paraphernalia, human waste and garbage outside our doors,” Cage said in a telephone interview in early October with the NNBW.


Three years later, Cage said the areas outside of Shim’s – and their other downtown pubs, Sierra Taphouse and Ole Bridge Pub – are much cleaner and the number of nuisance incidents has increased. considerably decreased.


He thanks the Downtown Reno Partnership and their Ambassador Program for helping make this happen.


Dressed in blue, black and white uniforms, trained DRP ambassadors monitor the Reno City Business Improvement District (BID), which encompasses 120 city blocks.


“The Ambassador Program is a great program,” Cage said. “They do a good job, they are very responsive and present. And it’s good that we have a non-binding option to deal with people who are in that position. Honestly, it’s a tax on our law enforcement system to deal with the homeless when they should be focusing on the harshest criminal element.


In the DRP’s third year of operation, Ambassadors removed 304 graffiti tags, collected 567 bags of trash and fixed 2,747 nuisance issues, among other statistics, according to the recently published nonprofit.
2020-2021 annual report.

“The Ambassadors have made a huge difference,” said Mark Estee, owner of Liberty Food and Wine Exchange in downtown Reno. “Whether it’s just having that go-to person to give you instructions or to assess situations and call for the right help when needed, just having that presence here adds to our city. “


Alex Stettinski, who was
executive director of the partnership since its creation in August 2018, said he was grateful to DRP for being able to “overcome financial challenges” at the height of the pandemic.

To help matters, the City of Reno reimbursed DRP for its COVID-related expenses as the non-profit organization set about providing the homeless community and the business community with COVID-related resources. 19 in 2020. As a result, the nonprofit was able to hire four additional Ambassadors to grow its team to 24.

“We were not only able to maintain the level of our employees, but to reinvest in our ambassador program and hire more,” he said.


‘THIS IS NEVER ENOUGH’


Still, more help is needed and more work needs to be done, said Stettinski, who wants to increase the team of ambassadors to 30.


“As an IDB, we are still at an impasse,” Stettinski said. “Because we do things that make the needle move dramatically, and at the same time, we’re never there; it is never enough. We tackle so many cleanliness issues, downtown roaming issues, but there are always cleanliness and roaming issues. “


“Some business owners are really expressing their appreciation for us for being here and making a difference,” he continued. “At the same time, it’s always questioned… ‘What are you doing here? Why are there still homeless people on West Street Plaza? It is because they are human beings and they have the right to be here. And it is not the homeless that is not wanted, it is the behavior of certain individuals.


Admittedly, Stettinski doesn’t naively think the DRP can solve the problem of homelessness, an issue that pervades cities across the country and has been exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic.


Washoe County has seen a sharp increase in homelessness in recent months; according to
County Housing and Homelessness Services Dashboard, which is updated monthly, more than 1,500 people – many of whom roam the city center – were homeless in September.

According to
Number of homeless people at a specific time (PIT), which is conducted annually in January as required by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, 1,708 people were counted in Washoe County 2021, up from 1,231 in January 2020.

As such, the DRP is using as many resources as possible to help solve the problem and create a cleaner, safer and more walkable downtown, Stettinski said.


That’s why he went to city council earlier this year and asked it to fund a one-year pilot program to provide increased monitoring and outreach services to BID’s six downtown public parks, as well as three nearby parks.

In mid-October, the municipal council approved the program in the amount of $ 159,543.80, paving the way for the hiring of three other ambassadors.

According to the city, a key component of the program is to provide better awareness to the homeless; Ambassadors will provide referrals, coordinate transport, and obtain priority assistance from approved DRP outreach staff, as well as regular tasks.


AT THE SERVICE OF A NEED


The DRP is 100% funded by the annual fee paid by downtown owners based on the value, location, and business type of their property. Commercial properties along Virginia Street, for example, pay the highest fees to pay for additional street cleaning and policing services, while homeowners and nonprofits on the outskirts of downtown pay the highest fees. less.


Estee, who is a downtown business owner and not a property owner, said he believes it is important that the IDB continues to be funded through appraisal fees.


“If we were asked to pay, I know we would,” Estee said.


Stettinski said the appraisal contributions the DRP received in the past fiscal year have declined due to falling property values ​​amid COVID closures and capacity restrictions. After all, at the start of the pandemic, he feared landowners were against continuing to pay assessment fees as they faced the financial fallout from COVID.


“When city council re-approved the funding mechanism last year, the majority of homeowners said, ‘We’re okay with paying for this; we need the BID more than ever, ”he said. “I think the owners realized that if we cut back on these services it wouldn’t make sense. “


Stettinski pointed out that the ambassadors, seen as essential workers, were still on the streets when the city was closed to help homeless people navigate to services and shelters. And when the downtown Reno Events Center was transformed into a temporary homeless shelter large enough to allow people to sleep six feet apart, ambassadors had especially busy hands to keep the “balanced and clean” city center, he said.


FIND FUNDS


To assist DRP in its mission to improve the safety and appearance of the city center, it received a number of grants during its last fiscal year. The organization received a donation of $ 25,000 from Washoe County to purchase a van to transport people in need of services and shelter. Since July, DRP has transported nearly 100 people, Stettinski said.


In terms of visual improvements, the DRP received a grant of $ 50,000 for Main Street in Nevada, which it combined with $ 80,000 from its budget and offered the money to the city to have the
Reno Transportation Rail Access Corridor (ReTRAC) embellished this summer.

In June, the dreary 18,000-square-foot concrete stretch of downtown Reno was transformed into a vibrant mural named “Locomotion,” depicting Reno-themed abstract images and symbols, such as train tracks. , mountains, sagebrush and the city flag.

Stettinski said the DRP is already working on the second phase of the project: adding lights. He said they had secured another grant of $ 30,000 for Main Street in Nevada and $ 50,000 from their beautification budget, which will go to the city to purchase hardware, LED lighting for new trees in the city. shading planted around the plaza, as well as six 30-foot-high spotlights that will cast light on the fresco.


“My goal is to do all the lighting before the holidays,” Stettinski said. “A big part of our job is to make the downtown environment more lively, friendlier and more interesting, so people will come back. “


ENGINE OF ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT

With that in mind, Stettinski said the “lion’s share” of the work being done to bring more residents and visitors to downtown Reno is economic development.

“If you don’t have offers downtown to give people the experience they are looking for, they still don’t come,” he said.


That’s why, he said, the DRP provides data and resources for developers, brokers, businesses and investors who want to come downtown. The nonprofit is also performing a ‘visualization exercise’ to better understand the different stakeholder groups to see ‘what are the strengths and weaknesses of the city center and what opportunities are there. ‘they see “.


He pointed out that projects like downtown Reno were a sign of a radical change happening downtown. The project, led by
Las Vegas based real estate group CAI Investments, is the conversion of the former Harrah’s Casino and Hotel into more than 500 apartments, 150,000 square feet of office space and 78,000 square feet of ground floor retail.

“With the developments underway, we will likely have 1,500 to 2,000 new apartments and condominiums added downtown over the next two to three years,” he said. “And that’s a game-changer, because we’ll be in a place where we reach critical mass and the retailers that we would like to come downtown will be interested. This is the long term vision that we have as BID.


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