Neon Line District: Reno agrees to sell 2 downtown parcels to Jacobs Entertainment – Reno Gazette Journal

The Reno City Council voted on Wednesday to approve an agreement to sell two downtown parcels to Jacobs Entertainment as part of a large redevelopment project.

The majority of Reno’s council members approved the agreement for the vacant 290 Keystone Avenue parcel as well as the 0 West Second Street parcel, currently a parking lot, after Jacobs Entertainment significantly increased the purchase price for both properties while also offering a profit-sharing agreement with the city.

Look back: Jacobs mulls Sands Regency rebranding, says Reno Neon Line will bookend career

Jacobs Entertainment, which also owns the Sands Regency hotel-casino, offered the city more than $3.07 million for both properties — $2.44 million for the West Second Street parcel and $631,600 for the Keystone parcel — which is more in line with their appraised value. The price offered is in addition to a $50,000 option that Jacobs has paid to the city. Jacobs previously offered $100,000 for both downtown properties earlier this year, raising concerns about the fairness of the deal.

Jacobs also offered the city 25% of the net proceeds generated for both properties should they be sold to a third-party residential developer. Housing is a key part of Jacobs’ plans for the parcel, which will be part of the company’s planned Reno Neon Line District project for the West Second Street corridor.

As part of the deal, Jacobs is required to apply for a building permit for the properties within 18 months of closing and start construction within six months of the permit being issued. Construction also must be done within 48 months. The city has the right to take the property back should the company fail to meet those conditions.

Garrett Gordon, a lawyer representing CEO Jeff Jacobs, touted the profit-sharing part of the deal as a great example of public-private partnership.

“You’re getting paid today as well as … profit-sharing in the future,” Gordon said. “It’s a very innovative project that’s a win-win.”

The proposal received strong support from the majority of council members, with some pointing to the potential economic development benefits that a future project would entail. The deal, however, received strong pushback from Councilwoman Jenny Brekhus, who voted against the agreement. 

The Great Reno Balloon Race partnered with the Sands Regency Hotel and Casino to announce the 40th Balloon Festival and the ribbon cutting of the new Glow Plaza, a concert and entertainment venue located on West Fourth street on July 9, 2021.

Brekhus cited the loss of public parking, which she called a key need in downtown. The Ward 1 representative also excoriated Jacobs for tearing down several blighted motels that served as de facto affordable housing and leaving several lots vacant for an extended period.

“Who’s economic development are we doing it under? The only economic development going on here is for Mr. Jacobs’ bottom line,” Brekhus said.

“I’ve seen Mr. Jacobs continue to tear down property and build nothing.”

More: Jacobs unveils new Sands Regency design, will invest $150 million more on Reno Neon Line

Brekhus also criticized the procedures surrounding the vote, particularly the decision to merge various agenda items into one vote, as problematic and seemingly “cooked.” The comment on the merging, which was cleared by the city’s legal team beforehand, garnered a response from Councilman Devon Reese.

“When items get combined in the agenda, I don’t think there’s any cooking going on and to suggest that is offensive,” Reese said. 

“There were drug deals that went on in that parking lot and to suggest that we’ve given away a jewel of the city is disingenuous,” Reese added. “What we have are two parcels that need new life.”

Concerns about parking were echoed by Father Chuck Durante, a rector at Saint Thomas Aquinas Cathedral in Reno, during the meeting. In response, Gordon guaranteed that Jacobs will work on parking alternatives, not just for churchgoers but the general public as well.

Durante also called for setting aside a certain share of units from the project as affordable housing. Jacobs has typically pledged to set aside 10% of units within the Neon Line district as affordable or senior housing.

“I propose designating 15% of the housing going in there as affordable housing,” Durante said.

Jason Hidalgo covers business and technology for the Reno Gazette Journal, and also reviews the latest video games. Follow him on Twitter @jasonhidalgo. Like this content? Support local journalism with an RGJ digital subscription.