RENO - The City Council is considering a sweeping plan to make over downtown to send Reno's image soaring in the face of increased competition from Indian gambling.
The proposal by Baltimore developer Blake Cordish calls for hotel-casinos to spruce up their exteriors and help pay for a $61.8 million multiple-use center to attract conventions, concerts and retailers to a downtown where shoppers now find little besides trinkets and T-shirts.
It also calls for an expanded performing arts theater and a planetarium-science center as anchors to a downtown where people would walk along open green belts or shop for books.
The City Council, acting as the Redevelopment Agency, accepted Cordish's preliminary plan and directed staff to return in three weeks with a schedule to gather public opinion.
The council then will decide whether to accept or reject Cordish's vision of downtown from Interstate 80 to south of the Truckee River.
''We're at a critical time. Reno is susceptible to gaming in California,'' Cordish said. ''This project needs to redefine how people look at downtown.''
Council members and casino executives remain skeptical about how much the plan will cost and whether it will provide enough economic benefit.
''There's a disconnect between this and what's reality,'' said Councilman Dave Rigdon, pointing to renderings of Cordish's plan, ''None of the (past downtown redevelopment plans) have been implemented because none of them have been financially reasonable.''
Cordish said his company will put up its own money to help develop an entertainment and retail district downtown. He expects his plan will be a public-private partnership with the city paying some costs.
Reno reached similar pacts with downtown developers DDR-OliverMcMillan of San Diego and Barney Ng, who intends to develop six blocks south of the Truckee River.
The OliverMcMillan contract was aborted after the developer failed to lure tenants for a proposed riverside district of art galleries, restaurants and retail shops. DDR-OliverMcMillan built the 12-screen Riverside Theater largely with public money.
Ng is renovating the closed Holiday Hotel Casino and hasn't asked the city to help.
Cordish's highlights include:
- A $61.8 million multiple-use center to attract conventions, concerts, sporting events and community meetings.
- A retail-entertainment district between the multiple-use center and the existing complex linking the Circus Circus-Silver Legacy-El Dorado hotel-casinos. Cordish said the first stage of this development, excluding land, parking and other infrastructure, will consist of almost 500,000 square feet and cost about $80 million.
- A science center and planetarium across from the Circus Circus Hotel Casino parking garage on North Virginia Street. It would be a gateway entrance for tourists exiting Interstate 80 and would include public art displays and a grassy, park-type setting on adjacent lots.
- A 2,400-seat performing arts center at the site of the Pioneer Theater, which would be demolished or renovated to make way for the larger center. The U.S. Post Office along the Truckee River would be converted into a lobby for the performing arts center. A glass foyer would connect the two structures.
Another key component would be to create a green belt over the covered railroad trench. Dotted with public art, benches and other outdoor attractions, this strip would encourage people to walk around downtown, a key part of Cordish's plan.
He also would encourage hotel-casinos, with the exception of Silver Legacy, to spruce up their exteriors.
''You basically get the feeling that these are the backsides of buildings,'' he said.