RENO, Nev. (CN) — Driving around a bend on eastbound Interstate 80 near the California-Nevada border, I suddenly leave behind the alpine forest landscape, with its distant snow-capped peaks. The earth turns brown and the trees shrink. On the twisting road that now hugs the Truckee River the landscape turns to semi-arid shrubs and grasses as I approach Reno.
To this bureau chief, Reno’s casino row looks like a miniature version of what downtown Las Vegas might have been had the Strip never been built and that city hadn’t felt the need to resurrect its derelict downtown with the Fremont Street Experience. Some of the casinos in Reno appear successful, like the El Dorado, flamboyant in its use of fluorescent pink; others are run down but still open, seemingly stuck in a bygone era. Still others off the main strip are empty shells, with the occasional hopeful sign offering the best steaks in town for a pittance.
Legalized gambling and liberalized divorce laws made Reno the gambling and divorce capitals of the nation in the 1930s. The passage of more liberal divorce laws in other states starting in the 1950s eliminated the need for wannabe divorcees to travel to and reside for a time in Reno.
The exponential growth of the Las Vegas Strip to the south put a dent in Reno’s gaming industry. The relaxation of Indian gaming laws in the 1980s, and the proliferation of casinos in California over the past decade — not to mention Internet gambling — further chipped away at the city’s share of the pie.
But I’m not a gambler, and I’m not here to write about the gaming industry. I’m here to write about the other Reno, or at least part of it.
Reno, established along with a train depot in 1868, is in the midst of a Reno-ssaince, if you believe the billboards that dotted the eastbound I-80 in California in recent years.
The city’s decades-long attempts at economic diversification include the repurposing of old buildings, including the once shuttered train depot-turned-brewery, distillery and watering hole, and the Brasserie St. James, a brewery and restaurant with rustic brick decor and a classic hardwood bar.
Located in the historic Crystal Springs Building in the midtown neighborhood, the brewery once housed an ice plant that in its heyday manufactured 20,000 pounds a day.
In 2009, the city opened Aces Ballpark, now called Greater Nevada Field, on the north bank of the river on the edge of downtown. Home to the Reno Aces minor league baseball team, starting in 2017 the stadium will also welcome Reno 1868 FC, an expansion team in the United Soccer League.
The Marriott hotel chain is currently building a large hotel directly next to the stadium as part of what a bartender at Mello Fellow told me were long-mooted plans to redevelop that stretch of the riverbank.
Just last month the city held a ribbon-cutting ceremony on the new Virginia Street Bridge. Legend has it that when Reno was a divorce destination, newly divorced women would toss their wedding rings from the old bridge into the river.
But all of these changes pale in comparison to the development of the Tesla factory just outside neighboring Sparks.
Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval estimates the factory — quite a coup for northern Nevada when announced in 2014 — will benefit the local economy to the tune of $100 billion over two decades, for which the state reportedly offered the company up to $1.3 billion in tax breaks.
The factory won’t produce Tesla cars, but rather the lithium ion batteries needed to power the planned production of 500,000 electric vehicles per year. By 2020, Tesla hopes the factory will produce “more lithium ion batteries annually than were produced worldwide in 2013,” according to the company’s website.
The factory hasn’t been without controversy though. Billboards on I-80 east of Reno speak of a bad deal for Nevadans. But the highest-profile incident came last year, when police arrested a reporter and a photographer from local newspaper the Reno Gazette Journal for allegedly running over a security guard at the factory after the photographer was spotted taking pictures without permission and guards confronted the pair for trespassing.
For its part, the newspaper claims the security guards “violently confronted” its two journalists while they took pictures from a hilltop overlooking the factory.
What impressed this bureau chief most about Reno are not the jobs brought in by the new factory, the beautiful land-grant university campus, the enticing river walk or the booming craft beer and restaurant scene, but the long-time residents of Reno.
From the welcoming and efficient court officials to all the diverse and knowledgeable job applicants, to the family who shared their picnic table with me at opening night for the Aces, Renoans were almost without fail welcoming, engaging and proud of their “Biggest Little City in the World.”
But if you’re planning on driving to Reno from the west remember to carry chains, as this bureau chief learned and shared in a previous edition of “Dispatches from the Road.”
About our coverage of Northern Nevada
Courthouse News Service began in-person coverage of northern Nevada in January 2015. CNS covers the Washoe County District Court and the Reno division of the United States District Court on a daily basis and provides regular coverage of courts in Carson City and the counties of Lyon, Elko, Douglas and Churchill.
Washoe County Facts
County Seat: Reno
Named After: Washoe Tribe, the original inhabitants
Read more CNS coverage of Washoe County news
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Rain Shadow, a column by editor Bill Girdner
Carson City Facts
County Seat: Carson City, also Nevada’s capital
Named After: Frontiersman Kit Carson
Read more CNS coverage of Carson City
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Nevada approves new appeals court
Lyon County Facts
County Seat: Yerington
Named After: Nathaniel Lyon, the first Union general killed in the Civil War
Elko County Facts
County Seat: Elko
Named After: Elko, the county seat, which according to legend was named by Central Pacific Railroad superintendent Charles Crocker by adding an “o” to the end of “elk.” Crocker is also credited with naming Reno.
Interesting tidbit: Elko is the fourth largest county by area in the United States behind San Bernardino County, California, Coconino County, Arizona and Nye County, Nevada.
Douglas County Facts
County Seat: Minden
Named After: Stephen Douglas, the 19th century politician famous for his debates with Abraham Lincoln
Interesting tidbits: Douglas County is home to Genoa, the oldest permanent settlement in Nevada, originally settled in 1851 by Mormon traders.
A CNS reporter said the folks in Minden are some of the “nicest folks in the world.” This bureau chief can’t disagree.
Churchill County Facts
County Seat: Fallon
Named After: Sylvester Churchill, a hero of the Mexican-American War
Interesting tidbit: Churchill County owns and operates the local telephone carrier, Churchill County Communications
Read more CNS coverage of Lyon, Elko Douglas and Churchill counties
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Gold mines sued for dumping hazardous waste
Forest service plan to fix damaged road didn’t violate environmental law
School district did not violate First Amendment by suspending student for mass shooting talk
All photos by Chris Marshall
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