Long the residence of the Harrah family, the sale of the iconic Rancharrah in South Reno gives way to new development of the property’s land. Here are some quick facts about Rancharrah, as well as what to expect with its development moving forward.
Chip Bowlby walked up to a podium on the back porch of the Rancharrah mansion, a conveniently staged mound of dirt and a row of golden shovels standing just a few feet before him.
On the cleanly graded grounds that will soon serve as the site for a tennis court, familiar movers and shakers from Reno society, politics and business filled several rows of white folding chairs.
Bowlby, owner and managing partner for Reno Land Development Co., quickly remembers one of the rules of Public Speaking 101. He warms up his audience with a joke.
“Somebody whispered in my ear that this looks like either a nice funeral or a bad wedding,” Bowlby said. The comment garnered some laughs from an audience that remained engaged despite being pelted by the blistering noon sun. All joking aside, today’s groundbreaking ceremony involved serious business about an iconic Reno property after all.
Rancharrah is evolving.
It is an evolution that many people in the community still are not sure about as new ownership starts its plans to add new residential and commercial projects to the Harrah family’s former Reno estate. It’s a feeling that Britton Griffith-Douglas understands given the memories a good number of locals have about the place.
“It’s like taking away your favorite stuffed animal — people are nervous about taking all that history away,” said Griffith-Douglas, a Neighborhood Advisory Board member for Ward 2 under Reno Councilmember Naomi Duerr. “Usually, a lot of development demolishes the old but this is such an additive (project) to the community.
“What’s really happening is it’s evolving, which is also what Reno is doing.”
With this chapter in Rancharrah’s nearly 60-year history, the reinvention of the property continues to move forward. Reno Land Development is now eyeing work on the first major backbone infrastructure for the reimagined Rancharrah, including major road and utility work to tie the Talbot Lane entrance to Kietzke Lane.
Groundbreaking for the north commercial parcel is slated to begin this year, Bowlby said. Work on the residential side is expected to start in early 2017.
“We wanted to have the groundbreaking when we’re able to commit to the city all of our improvement plans,” Bowlby said. “We’re just happy because this day has been a long time coming since we started this journey three years ago with John Harrah.”
Bowlby’s company officially closed on Harrah’s 109 acres of the property for $33.9 million in late 2015. Reno Land Development also purchased additional property to bring the total investment to about $40 million and approved development to more than 140 acres. Plans involve a master-planned community comprising of 691 residential lots on 117 acres. An additional 25 acres will be designated for commercial and retail.
“We’re in escrow already with some very large tenants on the north commercial parcel,” Bowlby said. “Those should be breaking ground before the end of the year.”
Commercial tenants will include financial companies, professional offices and law firms, Bowlby said. There’s also a lot of interest from restaurants and boutique shops for the retail parcel but no deals have been finalized for them because the planning for that section have not been finished for the market just yet.
Reno Mayor Hillary Schieve said she was initially nervous after finding out that Rancharrah was being sold. Schieve was particularly worried about the equestrian center and the property’s sprawling open spaces.
“I used to come here as a child to play,” Schieve said. “To me, this property is special.”
After talking to the development group and seeing its plans for Rancharrah, Schieve says she is now optimistic. Bowlby says that 30 percent of the property will continue to be open space. Schieve described the project as the latest in a string of positive developments for Reno, including the resolution of longstanding headaches such as the Kings Inn and Park Lane Mall properties.
Bowlby, who is also involved in the development project for the former Park Lane Mall location, said Rancharrah and Park Lane will be targeting two distinct markets instead of competing with each other. Both mixed development projects feature residential and commercial portions, including offices, retail and restaurants. Bowlby described Rancharrah as the kind of project that can stand on its own even without the growth from the arrival of companies such as Tesla Motors or Switch. The Park Lane project, on the other hand, is a growth play that also builds on the momentum from Midtown, making it likely more attractive to millennials.
“We see a tremendous amount of move-over buyers from the local market for Rancharrah,” Bowlby said. “You’re going to have more of the baby boomers and second-, third, fourth- and fifth generation families who want the amenities but still want to be in the heart of Reno.”
The residential part of Rancharrah will include custom and semi-custom homes as well as townhouses and condominiums. Affordability has been a key concern for Reno, where the median price for an existing home has reached $300,000. The average Reno income is able to afford a $302,000 house. Bowlby says affordability is an issue for the area but new developments will hopefully at least address the problem involving limited supply.
“Affordability starts out from the bottom up,” Bowlby said. “I think when you’re seeing the $200,000 market (for residential) disappear, there is a concern with affordability with our current wage structure.”
Bowlby pointed to his Summit Club apartment project near The Summit Reno mall, which sets aside 20 percent of its apartments for workforce or affordable housing, as well as the Meridian 120 North project in Verdi, which is planned for 750 residences of “all different levels,” as potentially helpful developments for addressing housing affordability.
Schieve says expanding affordable housing is a big focus for the City of Reno, as well as getting in front of the projected growth to ensure the Biggest Little City does not see a repeat of the housing bubble.
“We need to be careful not to repeat the policies of the past that got us in trouble,” Schieve said. “Reno has the opportunity to do it right and this council is very sensitive to that.”
With EDAWN’s EPIC report forecasting huge growth in employment and population in Washoe County and surrounding areas by 2019, residential supply will continue to be a hot button topic in the coming years. For developers with ongoing projects such as Bowlby — who attributes the timing of his projects partly to luck — it’s a nice problem to have.
Even with all the changes planned for the property one thing that will remain the same is the Rancharrah brand. Bowlby stressed that there will be no rebranding.
“Rancharrah is Rancharrah,” Bowlby said. “That’s the brand.”