A Different Type of 20/20 Plan
The neighborhoods of the University of Nevada in Reno start 2020 with 20 structures recently demolished or moved and 20 more standing vacant, waiting for their demise. Not all of it is directly connected to expansion by the University, but houses in some of Reno’s oldest subdivisions are vanishing for university-related business.
For the last few years, structures adjacent to the university, primarily houses, have been torn down. The neighborhood on the west side of Virginia Street has seen significant changes and now the southern neighborhood has become a part of the makeover.
Southeast – University of Nevada Engineering Building
In 2018, the University began tearing down nine houses on the west side of Evans Street. These homes adjacent to the southeast edge of the campus were part of the University Heights subdivision but most of them have been owned by the University for many years. A large new building for the College of Engineering is replacing the nine homes. A tenth home remains standing at the curve of Evans on the southeastern corner of the campus.
The College of Engineering has grown significantly in the past decade (1,595 students) but that growth has slowed to an increase of only 170 students in the past four years (Fall 2015 to Fall 2019.) University administrators have stated that the new Pennington Engineering building is too accommodate the growth.
Evans Northeast Addition – Abandoned and Boarded
In 1906, Elizabeth Evans, widow of John ‘Newt’ Evans, filed for the Evans Northeast Addition subdivision. Most of the homes were not built until the 1930s; however, many were torn down in the early 1970s because of the construction of Interstate 80 (I-80.) Only one small block remains of the subdivision north of I-80 and west of the railroad tracks. That block is bounded by Record Street to the east, Evans Street to the north and west, and 9th Street to the south.
On 5 March 2018, Capstone Collegiate Communities (CCC-Reno LLC,) a company located in Birmingham, Alabama, purchased all of the remaining properties. According to Washoe County Assessor data, the purchase for the homes (excluding the commercial property) was 180% of the current (Jan 2020) Zillow.com estimated value. The Alabama buyer paid over $5.5 million for all nine properties.
After purchasing the properties, Capstone attempted to have several public roads abandoned by the city to expand the property. One of the proposed options was to close Evans Avenue. This would have effectively eliminated access to the eastern side of the University for those coming from I-80 and would have eliminated the most direct access to I-80 from the neighborhoods east of the university.
Fortunately, that plan never came to a vote by the Reno City Council; however, Capstone did secure more land by convincing the City Council to abandon a small right turn lane and its adjacent island.
Although Capstone Collegiate Communities have owned the properties for almost two years, it has been reported that they do not intend to begin construction until the Summer of 2021. It is unclear when the existing structures will be demolished.
Evans North Addition – One of Reno’s Oldest Neighborhoods
For many years, the University has expressed frustration with the look of the motels and properties of the block between the campus and I-80. They expressed a desire to expand into that block and create a gateway to the University.
The irony is that this neighborhood was one of the first planned neighborhoods in Reno, and at one time it was known as one of the nicest neighborhoods. Known as ‘Professor’s Row,’ many homes were demolished in the 1970s to make way for I-80. This attracted the small hotels to fill in the block along Virginia Street that became unsightly as they aged.
It is also a twist of fate that the University is now seeking to eliminate the subdivision known as the Evans North Addition. This subdivision was established in 1879, by John ‘Newt’ Evans and his brother. John Evans was also the person who helped to convince the legislature to move the University of Nevada from Elko to Reno in 1885, and who also sold the land to the University.
U of NV Parking Garage and Business Building
Through purchases and donations, the University has acquired 23 properties to build a new parking garage and Business building. Construction is planned to begin later this year.
College of Business has also experienced significant student enrollment since 2009 (+1501 students;) however, the growth has slowed in the past four years with only 216 more students than in the Fall of 2015. The current building was built in 1982 and will be 40 years old in 2022.
RTC Steps in for the University
Virginia Street has been the focus of discussion as the motels in that area have been the source of crime and visual unattractiveness for the city and the University. Last Fall the Regional Transportation Commission (RTC) announced that they had purchased three of the five properties along Virginia Street between the University and I-80. The intent of the purchases is to create a transit hub, primarily for the benefit of the University.
RTC has the power to use eminent domain; therefore, the other two properties will either have to negotiate a fair price or face a legal battle that they will likely lose. The motels on the east side of Virginia have been abandoned and a construction fence placed around them.
Unrelated to the RTC project, two additional structures have been demolished at 9th and Sierra Streets, including a vacant sorority house; however, there has been little, if any, public announcement of the future of these properties.
The Death Blow
The loss of these neighborhoods was really initiated by the construction of Interstate 80 in the 1970s. Quiet historical homes nestled at the foot of the University were no match for a major interstate artery through the middle of their neighborhood. If the alignment of the Interstate had been along the same route as the existing Highway 40 it might have given the Evans’ subdivisions an opportunity to survive. We will never know.
But now the last evidence of some of Reno’s original neighborhoods will be swept away. Unfortunately, hindsight is always 20/20.