Trench gives Reno downtown a shot at future

Reno has given its ailing downtown a chance to revive with a $282 million trench to carry trains through town, an expensive and historic project that opened last week.

The consensus may be that the train problems - noise, safety, disruption of traffic - should have been solved years ago, but there's no point looking back. Reno's leaders can only look forward to find out if the investment, which included some $200 million in tax dollars from local and federal coffers, is going to pay off.

Seldom is a single factor responsible for the decline of a city's downtown. Once it starts, the slide is difficult to stop. Empty buildings lead to increasing crime and general neglect, and people no longer feel welcome.

Certainly the exodus of shopping to the outskirts of town contributed to Reno's woes. Major developments have sprung up just about everywhere except the city's core.

And there's high irony in the timing - just two days before the big train-trench ceremony - of approval of the biggest new casino development in 30 years in Reno. Where is Stations Casinos planning to build its $500 million hotel-casino? Near the Mount Rose junction, miles south of downtown.

A few days before that, a significant downtown casino, the Golden Phoenix, closed its doors for conversion to condominiums.

Those are big blows to downtown Reno. Will the trench be enough to turn things around?

Reno officials have poured money into downtown rehabilitation, with an events center, museum, ice rink, river plaza, kayak park and other attractions. The signs of life are evident.

Yet it will take years more to find out if the absence of train noise and traffic is truly a difference-maker. In a gambling town, it's a big bet on the future.


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