Since the dawn of the 21st century, the city of Reno has undergone a massive rebirth and now sits at a crossroads of where to go next.
Sitting at the base of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, what was once known as the best place to get divorces in the early 1940s and the gambling capital of the United States west of the Mississippi (before the rise of Las Vegas) has now transformed in recent years through numerous local projects. New renovations in the last 10 years have gone away from the gaming industry: the construction of one minor league baseball park and also the introduction of the Reno Bighorns have strengthened the sports community. Wingfield Park has undergone multiple renovations and numerous old hotels and motels have been transformed into condominiums. In addition to all of this, Reno still maintains the traditional elements of being home to the National Bowling Stadium and being a hop, skip and a jump from beautiful Lake Tahoe. The rise of the revamped Midtown district (which was once a tourist deathtrap) and also the University of Nevada, Reno, while the gaming industry continues to decline, has left the city with the question of “How do we connect all of this?”
As the university pushes its agenda of trying to make Reno a “college town,” it must still contend with the fact that after you cross Interstate-80, you are basically out of the reach of the campus. I-80 restricts the growth of the campus to the south, while residential areas to the east and west and McCarran Boulevard to the north also hamper its growth. While the university can contend with the residential areas, it still must navigate the casinos to the south which act as a barrier, both physically and metaphorically, between the college crowd and the restructured Midtown district.
Finding a way to connect these two areas would give the university a chance to emulate some of the big-time west-coast institutions such as the University of Washington and California Berkeley in how the whole community is connected by the campus. There are some skeleton ideas in place to implement this idea. According to Heidi Gansert, the special assistant to President for External Affairs, her idea is to basically connect the university and Midtown through a lighted walkway that would also incorporate the Regional Transportation commission (RTC).
However, a Reno without the casinos would be almost unthinkable since it would not only hurt the aesthetic of the town (the five tallest buildings are casinos), but also economically (five of the city’s top employers are run by gaming organizations). With strong ties to both the Harrah’s Corporation and the Carano family, the city must walk a fine line between the intermingling of the two separate organizations that have left its identity in flux.
Reno isn’t Portland in the sense of Midtown becoming a hipster capital, but it also isn’t Las Vegas. The city could be charging into a territory that few others, if any, are: a cohesive mix of both higher education and development along with a gambling-based center. The area will continue to grow and expand thanks to its incredible location for outdoor enthusiasts and close proximity to the California Bay Area. However, what makes the town the most prime candidate for expansion from the neighboring western states is that the quality of education is extremely affordable, and the university is growing at an exponential rate. President Marc Johnson has an enrollment goal of 22,000 by 2021, and while the number might still be below UNLV, it will make UNR more competitive than it ever has been thanks to a larger pool of undergraduates. Also, with the large inflow of new students will hopefully come an impressive outflow of graduates that will want to give back to their alma mater to make the school more competitive in academics, research and athletics. With construction going on all around the campus, the university is making moves to climb the ladder above other institutions along the West Coast.
The Reno area might not ever achieve the goal of becoming a “college town,” but it doesn’t need to. The “Biggest Little City” doesn’t need to be like anywhere else to be successful. It just needs to do what works for it; what that is however, remains to be seen.
The Nevada Sagebrush editorial staff can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.