by Corrine Casanova
Reno has a rich history of reinventing itself. Reno was born in 1868 as a railroad town—it became a city when the transcontinental railroad reached town. Shortly thereafter, the University of Nevada was founded in 1885. In the early 1900s, Reno turned divorce into a big business and became known as the Divorce Capital of the World for sixty years. Divorce-seekers could quickly establish Nevada residency, file for divorce and return home a single person in rapid fashion. An entire industry developed in and around Reno to provide divorce seekers lodging, services and employment.
The art scene has always been strong here. Today, Artown is celebrated throughout the month of July. And sculpture art is sprinkled throughout the city and highways. Popular events like the National Championship Reno Air Races, the Great Reno Balloon Races and Hot August Nights keep tourism alive and Reno on the map as a tourist destination. While gaming has always been part of Reno’s culture, the legislature officially legalized gambling entirely in 1931. Reno was also known as an early supply center for the region’s mining and agricultural communities. Manufacturing and distribution became big business because of Reno’s proximity to multiple railroad lines and water. And in the 1940s and 50s the University of Nevada, Reno received national attention as a place where Hollywood producers came to shoot movies. Students often had an opportunity to become extras in the movies.
As Reno embarks on its 150thanniversary, or sesquicentennial, this month, the City of Reno has been celebrating 150 extraordinary individuals who they refer to as “Reno People” with something they call the Reno People Project. Past and present residents of Reno have been nominated and awarded as one of the 150 people who have made significant, positive and an influential impact on the community. For nearly a year, the Project has been gaining traction. According to City Councilman David Bobzien, “It is an honor to recognize 150 people both from the past and people that are currently living that have made a contribution to Reno’s arts, culture, business and government community. If the person is no longer living, we make efforts to track down relative and descendants to accept the award.” Mayor Hillary Schieve shared, “This Project allows us to tell this incredible story about not only our history, but also the people that have shaped our community and contributed so much to this city. Not only that, they have become such a big part of our future.”
Reno continues to reimagine and reinvent itself. Schieve has been mayor of Reno since 2014 and is up for reelection this September. When asked about what changes she has seen in the way the city is viewed by other cities, she shared, “Well, that is a big one. When I was first elected, people would say why in the world would you want to be elected mayor in the city of Reno in a time like this? At the time, Reno had one of the highest foreclosure rates in the country. People were really nervous about the direction we were going to go in. When I would go to the Council of Mayors, people would, ‘Oh my gosh, you are the Reno 911 mayor.’ I laughed but at the time I was so embarrassed. I really ran for mayor on changing the vision of our city and the Reno Revival concept.”
Nevada has something unique to offer businesses. “To do business in Nevada it is about 40 percent more affordable than to do business in California. With our incredible landscape we have about 320 days of sunshine. We have so many things that are going for us in this city—we are close to the Bay area which is certainly helpful. The average home in San Francisco is $1.5 million as opposed to our $380,000 median home price. While the home prices here are climbing because people are wanting to be part of this movement, there are still affordable options and a great quality of life. We have one of the best backyard playgrounds in the country so we have a lot of to brag about and I am really proud of it. I always say the grains of sand make the beach. It’s kind of like this whole community coming together and championing the new Reno. It is exciting but success also comes challenges. We want to keep housing affordable, continue to have a great quality of life and open businesses and having a thriving city so we have to keep those things at the forefront of our mind because we have had so much success. It’s all about balance,” Schieve explained.
Revitalizing downtown Reno is a huge City of Reno initiative. Reno is still playing catch up from the recession. “During that time our downtown was really neglected. One of the things we are doing is the Business Improvement District which is a private sector funding mechanism designed to improve the environment of a business district. With this program, we put ambassadors downtown and also work with the chronically homeless and mentally ill. We aim to keep our sidewalks and streets clean. It really is a collaboration with the downtown business owners and the city and county. We wanted to bring that model here,” Schieve said. One of the biggest projects of the Reno revival is the Kings Inn which was vacant 30 years. When Schieve first was running for office the question always was, “What about the Kings Inn Casino?” Today it is home to the 3rdStreet Flats, a millennial-esque project that signifies that Reno is changing.
Midtown has also seen some big changes too particularly for Schieve as a business owner. In fact, she decided to run for mayor because the city of Reno wanted to charge her $5,000 to move a sign two feet in front of her business. Midtown was created during the recession and Schieve believes, “There’s no way we could have done that if the economy was good because landlords were not receiving income on those properties for a long time so it gave us the opportunity to work with artists and entrepreneurs and allow people to open up shop who normally couldn’t have. More millionaires are created during recessions because people have to reinvent themselves so for some people that can be a positive thing. When I look at Midtown, I think of it as the little train that could. It reminds me that people embraced this because they wanted to have something to look forward to. They wanted to see their city succeed and thrive in any way they could participate. Midtown had that local organic growth that I am really proud of.”
The City of Reno is working hard to have Reno recognized as a university town since the UNR campus is right across the freeway. Currently, the Innevation Center powered by Switch is beginning to help bring some of that university energy downtown and into the city of Reno.
When it comes to reimagining Reno, the City’s Master Plan is geared toward working with regional partners to diversify the local and region economy. The focus will be high-tech industries and keeping and attracting small and local businesses. While both tourism and gaming will continue to play a role in Reno’s economy, there’s a prediction that outdoor/lifestyle and related industries will step up.
Cheers to the next 150 years!