Park Lane Mall may become ‘green’ development aimed at millenials

RENO, Nev. (News 4 & Fox 11) — It’s very early in the process but Park Lane Mall could become a high density, sustainable development aimed at drawing millennials. That’s the vision Managing Partner Chip Bowlby with Reno Urban Developers talks about when describing the new project.

Escrow has not yet closed on the property. There are no renderings, but Reno Urban Developers is working on acquiring the parcel that has been vacant for nearly a decade. It sits at the corner of Virginia Street and Plumb Lane, and is a gateway from the airport to Reno’s southern border of an emerging MidTown.

Bowlby said, “Now that the economy has come back and Reno has started to thrive, we see a millennial community coming out, and this is pretty much ground zero.” The word emerged that something might be developing at the old Park Lane site when the Urban Land Institute provided a preliminary report to the Reno City Council giving recommendations on how to improve the Virginia Street Corridor. Bowlby said, “I think this property of 45 acres is kind of the core of what can be put together featuring some housing for sale and some for rent.” He added, “It might also contain professional office space, maybe a tech center, maybe a little medical.”

Bowlby notes the housing market has changed since the Great Recession. He said he learned from the Reno Land Institute that Reno is the number one fastest growing market of home appreciation in the nation. With housing prices on the rise and rents beginning to soar, Bowlby said those forces are helping drive this project, making it different from what has been tried at that site before. He envisions including a workforce housing component to the project. This would allow working people, who make 50 percent of the average median salary, to qualify for housing in the project.

He said the vision is a high-density development, like you would see in a big city where you will be able to live, work and play. Once the Bus Rapid Transit extension is complete, it will connect the University of Nevada, Reno right to the new development’s doorstep.

Back in the late 1990s and early 2000s, former “Beverly Hillbillies” star Max Baer, who played the character Jethro Bodine, had hoped to acquire the property and turn it into a casino. His vision made headlines and created controversy because in addition to the casino he wanted to build a 240-foot-tall signature oil derrick to make a statement on the property that would shoot a 70-foot flame into the sky. Neither nearby Park Lane Mall neighbors nor the Reno City Council liked that idea. Also, the Federal Aviation Administration opposed the idea out of concerns it might impede flights coming in and out of Reno-Tahoe International Airport. The idea and the casino never transpired.

The Park Lane Mall closed in 2007 and was demolished by 2009. Former owner, San Francisco based real estate investment company Merlone Geier Partners had hoped to put retail on the site, but the Great Recession changed that plan. In 2013 another plan, called the Park Lane Promenade, also emerged but never happened.

Bowlby said the new vision is much different than any plan before. He also notes the economy has changed and is rebounding. He said the city of Reno is on the cusp of becoming something great, and he hopes this new vision for the site is a part of that a new vitality that is now emerging.

He said the project will be done in phases and when it is complete, it should be worth about a half billion dollars worth of investment. Bowlby said marketing studies need to be done but he believes all the zoning is already in place. If all goes well, he hopes to begin construction on the first phase in November 2016.

Bowlby said he’s lived in Reno more than two decades and said he was very proud to be a part of this project adding, “The Park Lane Mall developer started that project in 1964. That was when I was 2 months old.”

Former Reno City Councilman Jessica Sferazza is the governmental affairs liaison for the development company. She served on the council back in the mid 2000s. She said the new development will be a boon to the community. She said, “Not only is this an important and prime piece of real estate, but right now it is assessed on the tax rolls as vacant land. As it is developed, the property value will rise, and that new tax revenue will benefit not only the city but the county and community as a whole.”