My wife and I experienced a rarity recently, namely, the opportunity for some quality time alone away from family. We chose Reno as our getaway destination for its convenience and the scenic drive there. Reno has become familiar territory having lived in Carson City, its neighboring city to the South for a number of years

One of our favorite places to stop when returning to the area is a specialty gift store called Purple Avocado. the owners Sue and Stan Jones are salt-of-the-earth people and great ambassadors for  Northern Nevada. They’re also a great source of information regarding new economic development activity in the region.

On this most recent trip, Stan quickly brought me up to speed on the biggest news to hit Reno years—the new Triple-A baseball park and entertainment district in the heart of downtown. And as luck would have it, Harrah’s Casino, our hotel for the evening, ended up being just a stones throw away from  it.

The baseball park is the new home of the Reno Ace’s, the minor league affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks. It has already been a major boom to the sagging Reno economy, attracting nearly a half-a-million people for baseball games this past season. The nearby Reno Entertainment District is also in its early stages of development. When completed in 2010, it will feature a bustling array of retail, dining and nightlife venues.

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The New Reno Aces Ballpark

This is all good news for downtown Reno as it struggles to regain traction from the stubborn economic downturn. Evidence of the areas declining fortunes is quite evident as one drives along Virginia Street through the main casino corridor.  Coexisting amid the bright lights of Harrah’s, Silver Legacy, Eldorado, Circus Circus and other gambling hotspots are boarded up buildings, seedy motels and other structures which have fallen into a state of disrepair. The streets have a unkempt feel about them and seem to be a magnet to a growing population of individuals who display various social disorders.

A decline in tourism has especially affected the hotel and casino industry in Reno resulting in millions of dollars in losses to the local economy. Much of this is due to a hangover among tourists in neighboring California, whose wallets have tightened is response to atrocious economic fortunes in that state. In fact one-third of the weekend tourists in Reno traditionally hail from the Golden State.

Not long ago Reno was brimming with abundant possibilities.  Much of this was a manifestation of its position as the second largest city in the fastest growing state in the nation. Tales abound of how companies were pulling up stakes to move from neighboring California to the tax favorable Nevada. The housing industry was bustling and the casino industry was holding its own despite competition from neighboring locales.

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The Heart of Downtown Reno

Now Reno is firmly enmeshed in a state of recovery. And fortunately for downtown, hopeful signs are beginning to surface.  Indicators include residential developments such as The Palladio and The Montage, which have attract new residents to the central-core. The Reno Riverwalk District also continues to evolve in its importance as an outdoor lifestyle amenity, attracting locals and visitors alike. And plans were recently announced regarding a series of new streetcar lines, including an estimated $84 million dollar project for tracks from downtown to the Reno-Sparks convention center located several miles to the south.

So what does all this portend for the future of downtown Reno? As I see it, these answers are about as predictable as rolling the dice on the local craps tables. But the new ballpark, entertainment district and other development plans certainly show promise in terms of Reno’s recovery from the doldrums.  In the spirit of the “Biggest Little City in the World,” let’s just call it a gamble worth taking.

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