Alex Stettinski

Why downtown Reno needed a business improvement district

In 2018, council approved Nevada’s first business improvement district, one of thousands in the country, to assist in the revitalization of downtown Reno. While the city is growing and changing everywhere else, downtown has lagged behind. So, Reno created the business improvement district to address these ongoing safety and cleanliness issues, economic development and homelessness.

While the downtown area around the Truckee River has been activated with 1,000 new residents since the construction of the Whitewater Park, movie theater, new condos, restaurants and bars, other parts of downtown need attention. It needs to be cleaner, safer and friendlier for locals and visitors.

After a year-long exploration process with downtown stakeholders, experts and dedicated community leaders decided that a business improvement district was necessary to transform downtown Reno.

The goal: set up a business improvement district, called the Downtown Reno Partnership, to enhance the city of Reno’s existing police and maintenance services with street-level ambassadors, economic development and new marketing, using the same funding model, a special improvement district. With enthusiastic community support and a unanimous City Council vote to establish the business improvement district, the partnership upgraded all of those services with minimal changes to previous property assessments.

The Downtown Reno Partnership is the first official organization to take ownership over downtown’s disparate yet interconnected issues.

The Downtown Reno Partnership has spent its first two and half months improving the quality of life and cleanliness of the city’s core. The Downtown Reno Partnership’s success is only possible through, you guessed it, partnerships with the organizations, institutions, residents, property owners, big and small businesses, nonprofits, students, visitors and elected officials who want to make a difference.

Working with our ambassadors, organizations like Health Plan of Nevada and the Reno Behavioral Healthcare Hospital provide at-risk homeless people physical and mental healthcare coverage.

“It’s great to know that when there is someone in need and myself or my team are not able to provide intensive support to them (due to having a different Medicaid plan), we can count on your team to provide resources and direction to further assist,” Rachel Rosensteel, health and social service coordinator at the Health Plan of Nevada wrote in an email.

Our economic development efforts will augment the city of Reno and Economic Development Agency of Western Nevada’s work in order to bring much-needed new office and retail investment to the neighborhood.

And, our marketing team can now bring business owners together to jointly remind people of all the great things downtown has to offer. In addition to bringing people downtown for wine walks, crawls and street festivals – which we love – we can give people reasons to visit during the off seasons, holidays and for fun.

In January, we formed the Urban Main Street Committee to apply for a Nevada grant that would fund street beautification on Virginia Street. We’ll keep you posted on the award application via our website ( and Facebook page.

We have people walking the streets daily, literally cleaning up sidewalks, streets and buildings, too.

In November and December, our 13 ambassadors partnered with city of Reno Code Enforcement and Public Works to proactively eliminate graffiti (394 tags removed), clean up abandoned grocery carts (more than 200 grocery carts retrieved), clean up human waste (54 feces cleaned) and helped our locals and tourists find new things to do (1,024 directions given) among so many more tasks that we report on our website.

The ambassadors also work with the Reno Police Department to take on non-emergency issues. We now have a first line of defense that allows RPD to focus on crime rather than non-violent social issues.

Additionally, our ambassadors have become the first step in connecting homeless people to proper services. Brandon Bird said he started to set up camp in Wingfield Park when an ambassador, Jeremy Lambert, found him. Jeremy connected him to the Veterans Resource Center social workers so that Bird would not have to sleep in the park.

“I suffer from depression and I lost my job and couldn’t pay rent,” Brandon Bird told us. “I have a place over my head and food in my belly, which I’m grateful for, but feel I’m still far from where I need to be. If there were more people like Jeremy and the others I met that day, the world would be greater than it is.”

This is only a sampling and the beginning of what is now possible for Reno. We already had the pieces: great businesses, passionate leaders, invaluable service providers. We are simply pulling everyone together and creating a support network so that the community can reshape downtown in its own image.

It truly takes a village and we look forward to turning around downtown together.

This article was also published in the Reno Gazette Journal’s opinion section online and in print on Sunday, January 20, 2019.

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