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Locomotion: A city in motion

Downtown Reno’s Locomotion Plaza comes to life

For 100 years, railroad tracks split downtown Reno in two, moving freight but also causing delays and a pedestrian safety hazard. In 2005, those railroad tracks were moved under downtown. Two “lids” were placed atop the tracks, with plans to turn them into parks. But the 2008 recession demolished any plans to fulfill that dream.

Thanks to the hard work of the Downtown Reno Partnership, City of Reno, sponsors, grants and partners, that dream will finally be realized.

Before and After

Photos by Jen Schmidt

Locomotion Plaza fun facts

square feet of concrete will be painted twice
colors in the mural
gallons of paint will be used
volunteers signed up for 300 time slots to complete the mural and install landscaping
hours to complete the mural
new shade trees
square feet of new trees and flowers
perennial flowers installed

Story of the ReTRAC Plaza, an 80 year placemaking journey to beautify downtown Reno

The City of Reno once rattled with train noise, horns and exhaust fumes as one of the largest transportation hubs in Northern Nevada for the Union Pacific Railroad. In the early 1940s, the Reno Transportation Rail Access Corridor, ReTRAC, was proposed to improve the overall quality of life in Reno. The project was completed in 2005, successfully depressing 2.25 miles of railroad tracks below city streets.

ReTRAC was just three-years-old when the Great Recession devastated Northern Nevada. The project was forced to halt and left both physical and metaphorical empty spaces in the heart of Downtown Reno.

Designed to be a central component of the city, the original plans envisioned a large greenway and entertainment spine for citizens to gather for centuries to come, but due to the economic downturn, it fell into the shadows for 15 years.

Until today, when financial partners joined forces once again.

After more than a decade-long-wait, innovative partnerships have come together to enhance the ReTRAC East Plaza concrete and dirt space between the Whitney Peak Hotel and Eldorado Resort Casino on Virginia Street. Residents and visitors can now look forward to a welcoming and aesthetically pleasing space. Plans are underway to landscape the eastern lid. Artist Brad Carney was selected to paint a mural with the help of the community at large.

When the project is complete, the ReTRAC plaza will be painted with a mural named “Locomotion” and maintained by the City of Reno Arts, Culture and Events Office. Making an attractive space is part of a larger placemaking and programming goal for the Downtown Reno Partnership. We believe the space will be more appealing to ongoing small events and activities once the project is completed.

Quick facts about the Locomotion project

  • Construction begins now through July 1, 2021
  • June 7 – 11, 2021 is when the project will be painted by community volunteers
  • ReTRAC stands for: Reno Transportation Rail Access Corridor
  • Downtown Reno Partnership, in partnership with the City of Reno, spearheaded the beautification to enhance this public space as part of its placemaking mission
  • $25,000 was awarded to the City of Reno by the Bloomberg Philanthropies grant to pay for the mural
  • $50,000 was awarded to Downtown Reno Partnership by the Main Street grant
  • The Downtown Reno Partnership combined the Main Street grant and $80,000 of its beautification budget and donated those together to the City of Reno to complete the project
  • Nevada Landscaping Association, Stantec donated a combined $65,000 of consulting time

Lead muralist Brad Carney amidst interns and students painting ‘Rhythm & Hues’ at Eakins Oval in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Photo Conrad Benner

Selecting an artist for downtown Reno and adding landscaping

R eno was selected as one of 16 cities for projects in the first year of the Bloomberg Philanthropies Asphalt Art Initiative. The Reno Arts & Culture Commission (RACC) and their Public Art Committee (PAC) put out a call to artists for the ground mural project. The call received 25 applications from artists and artist teams. The PAC, along with input from the Downtown Reno Partnership, reviewed all applications and recommended artist Brad Carney based on his style and past experience. The RACC approved the PAC’s recommendation.

The painting and installation of the mural was done by the artist with a group of coordinated volunteers. Carney’s design concept includes abstracted elements specific to the site and our city (train tracks, river, mountains, sagebrush, and pieces of the Reno flag). The design is intended to work in tandem with events that take place on ReTRAC and to encourage new uses of the space and interaction with the mural.

“The mural design for the ReTRAC represents the beauty and spirit of Reno,” Brad Carney said. “This bright and vibrant 18,000 square foot ground mural will allow participants to discover joy in downtown Reno. Family and friends will be greeted by colorful interpretations of Reno’s landscape. Throughout the design, participants can walk the abstract rail path, or stroll the perimeter on a stripe pattern that takes you all the way around. The front entrance area begins with the rail path and images of local sagebrush. Mountain ranges give way to a raging river of blue beneath the stars, before squeezing through the rear section to form an oval and give way to the sun. The design was intended to be played with, staged, and transformed into whatever large scale event or intimate setting.”

Lead muralist Brad Casey jumps in the air amidst interns and students painting ‘Rhythm & Hues’ at Eakins Oval in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Photo by Bastiaan Slabbers for NewsWorks

Community artists and volunteers

The following Reno artists and community members painted the mural:

Asa Kennedy • Shay Neth • Daria Nakritskaia • Jenny Baker • Holly Spahr • Diane Hohen • Amaya Rodriguez Keir • Ashley Brock • Benjamin Kincaid • Kelly Corrigan • Kiley Cryer • Ashley Frost • Sofia Lombardo • Heidi Parker • Cynthia Sarver • Richard Kaczmarek • Cynthia Albright • Cammy LoRe • James Johnson • Lauryn Norris • Heather Reynolds • Ashley Gottlieb • Violet Smith • Bryce Chisholm • Courtney Green • Eric Lerude • Stephanie Lerude • Michael Trembath • Tamara Thomas • Andrew Thomas • Marissa Velasquez • Anahy Meza • Ysenia Velasquez • Jeremiah Neal • Nathan DeGraaff • Tamarah Zimek • John Rossi • Bridget Enderle • Deborah Hug • Naima Valentin • Sara Cardoza-Orellana • Shayleah Neth • Daria Nakritskaia • Kristianna Twyeffort • Ed Adkins • Holly Spahr • Asa Kennedy • Allyssa Robidoux • William Gray • Constance Hanson • Vicki Heacock • Leah Norsworthy • Shawna McBride • Marylou Johnson • Megan Anderson • Alisha Anderson • Carson Costa • Haley Grable • Diane Hohen • Takeshi Otani • Rachel Zunino • Maya Stibick • Michael Higdon • Jenny Baker • Victoria Richardson • Kyle Hess • Joshua Chang • Chanelle Bessette • Michelle Legras Peltier • Teasha McNamara • Tyrell Daniel • Dylan Meeks • Macely Daniel • Christina Cavallaro • Mira Mathavoru • Zilla Soswa • Dylan Daniel • Jordan Young • Brenda Bush • Rick Eilenberger • Jaime Eilenberger • Shaylynn Ellis • Sheyenne Taylor • Caitlin Aitchison • Adam Czajkowski • Shoshana Zeldner • Jessica Baker • Cathy House • Jaime Chapman • Kelly Kittell • Brian Hanson • Karla Dawn Villanueva • Ian Johnson • Adrian Montes • Elana Jovero • Cecilia Wade • Robert Alto • Aly Robbins • Katrina Olson • Leah Kittell • Inge Costa • Alicia Colon • Art Rangel • Penny Rangel • Fran Vancil • Bianka Dodov • Elizabeth Dodov • Salvador Torres • Daisy Robles • Elise Stephens • Rachel Jones • Melanie Wood • Cheryl Leith • April Gratrix • Sonya Lucatero • Mike Willyoung • Josh Crayton • Danielle Stroup • Madeleine Hendrick • Shannon Ferguson • Marlowe Kulley • Wan Cone • Jessica Adams • Alexis Hill • Erik Fong • Megan Duggan • Marleta Fong • Lea Wilson • Kelly Echeverria • Mandy Hodach • Shawn Everhart • Abigail Everhart • Lindsay Morgan • Tyler Herzig • Andrew Wang • Tonglin Yue • Yaoyue Wang • Jenie Villanueva • Carole Brill • William Letcher • Gail Letcher • Karen Bernal • Arthur Kerr • Annie Flanzraich • Jill Flanzraich • Eric Marks • Emma Will • Maggie Will • Michael Stewart

Artist Brad Carney

Brad Carney. Photo by Steve Weinik

Brad Carney creates public and private works of art in a collaborative spirit for individual clients and community based experiences.  My personal aesthetic emphasizes rhythm, motion, and a playfulness through the use of line, color, and composition. Each project is an opportunity to create powerful human connections.  Recent projects have been inspired by abstract interpretations of sound and movement in our environment, neighborhood architectural transition, and cultural identity of communities. The works reflect our history, discuss our present, and reimagine a future, together.

The Nevada Main Street grant

Participation in the Main Street program as the Downtown Reno Urban Main Street better enables us to support entrepreneurship and business development with proven downtown strategies while also providing us with opportunities for ongoing education and training. 

The Nevada Main Street (NMS) is a holistic approach to Main Street revitalization that involves aesthetics, business creation/retention, and housing will lead to healthy and economically vibrant communities. A combination of capacity and capital is needed to revitalize Main Streets across the state. 

Bloomberg Philanthropies Asphalt Art Initiative

Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Asphalt Art Initiative responds to the growing number of cities around the world embracing art as an effective and relatively low-cost strategy to activate their streets. While cities incorporate art into public spaces in a variety of ways, the focus of this initiative is what they are calling asphalt art: visual interventions on roadways (intersections and crosswalks), pedestrian spaces (plazas and sidewalks), and vertical infrastructure (utility boxes, traffic barriers and underpasses).

The Asphalt Art Initiative grant program is designed to fund visual art interventions in U.S. cities with the goal of:

  • Improving street and pedestrian safety
  • Revitalizing and activating underutilized public space
  • Promoting collaboration and civic engagement in local communities


Proposed landscape plan by Stantec.

A renewed landscape plan grows out of a simple request for better soil

Two years ago, the Downtown Reno Partnership started a conversation about improving the soil on the ReTRAC Plaza. In 2005, small trees were planted into bad soil and never took root nor grew beyond their original size. By June 2021, that conversation blossomed into a full-scale public mural and landscaping plan that will give new life to the ReTRAC lid, making it into a beautiful new public space.

“Over the next couple decades, we’ll start to see an actual tree canopy with shade and pedestrian space that’s comfortable and welcoming,” said City of Reno Urban Forester Matt Basile. “That creates a place where tourists and shoppers want to spend time, walk around and participate in our local economy.”

In partnership with Omega Landscaping, Basile’s team will be installing about 16 new trees. But not saplings like you’d see with new construction. No, Basile has sourced six-inch thick trees that are about 12 years old and almost two tons each. He said the install could take two weeks, but when completed, they will start the Locomotion project off with a nice shade canopy. Rick Clark and Omega Landscaping will then install perennial plants that will survive Reno’s harsh climate shifts year round with minimal maintenance and replanting, providing ground coverage to fill in the space between the trees.

The result will look less like the above renderings, which show all the plants in bloom at once, Basile said, but instead will bloom gradually throughout the year. The flowers and shrubs are perennials that each flower at different times throughout the growing season as opposed to annuals that flower all season long. Planting perennials means they will grow back each year, which cuts down significantly on maintenance requirements and replacement costs when compared to annuals.

During the installation process in May-June 2021, Basile and Clark’s teams will focus on replacing the bad soil with a good soil better for long-term plant health. This should keep the landscaping beautiful for decades.

“I think it’s going to have a positive effect on our downtown, almost like creating a Central Park in an area where we don’t have anything like it,” Basile said.

Basile and County Commissioner Alexis Hill, who helped start the project when she worked for the City of Reno’s Arts & Culture Commission, both said they think the Locomotion project is timed well with the launch of COVID-19 vaccines.

“We’re creating this really amazing public space that will hopefully be a jumpstart to get things going again downtown,” Basile said.

Plant facts

Small perennial shrubbery and six species of tree will be planted on the edges of the ReTRAC lid. City of Reno Urban Forester Matt Basile created a list of appropriate tree types with a goal to encourage diversity. A more diverse urban forest is a more resilient urban forest. This mitigates the risk to the urban forest as the climate changes and different pests and diseases come to town. Most of the trees in downtown are a species of pear tree, for example, and if there was a pear disease, we’d lose all of them at once. So on a small scale, this project is an example of how the city wants to plant trees moving forward.

Here are the species being planted:

  1. Northern Catalpa 
  2. London Plane Tree
  3. Swamp White Oak
  4. Shumard Oak
  5. Accolade Elm
  6. Emerald Sunshine Elm

A total of 16 trees, and 1,600 flowers were planted. Variety of colors and flowering on the trees at different times of the year will create a good canopy.

Each tree is already about 12 years old, was sourced from a tree farm in Oregon and weigh about two tons each.

A soil management plan was created to replace the existing toxic-to-plants dirt currently in place. Each tree will be planted into a 10-foot x 10-foot x 36-inch cube of new soil. New topsoil will replace a full nine inches of depth across the entire landscape. A soil specifications for construction plan was created for optimal growth condition.

Community members

Keep Truckee Meadows Beautiful created an opportunity for community members to also participate in planting flowers on the landscaped portion of the plaza.  The following community members helped install the flowers and mulch:

Ken Gibson • Diane Hohen • Sue Vantrees • Trevan Martin • Sonya Lucatero • Cheryl Guinan • Addison Guina • Paula McDonough

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