Motels of Reno, Demolished One at a Time, As Biggest Little City Changes

As Reno rebrands, change is happening including the gradual disappearance of local motels, long a refuge for those with few other housing options.

A familiar sight in Reno, the recent destruction of a motel, in this case the Carriage Inn. Our Town Reno file photo.

A Fight on Blight or Bulldozer Queen?

Since becoming mayor in 2014, Hillary Schieve has set as one her goals replacing motels on Fourth Street and elsewhere. These were initially built for the tourist trade but then became first or last resort housing for people going in and out of homelessness. In a recent interview, Schieve described the motels as bug infested and rampant with drug dealers and prostitutes.

“Many of the motels weren’t built for long term housing, right,” she said. “And they really had a shelf life of about 40 to 50 years. So many of them were incredibly dilapidated. We saw a ton of mold, you know, roofs caving in, water not running, many broken pipes. We’ve found a lot of rooms that had bedding that hadn’t been changed in 20 years. You know that really was a huge concern because we started to get a lot of complaints from people that were living in these motels and, you know, saying that, the conditions were really horrendous.”

Many motels have been bulldozed away in recent years, replaced by art projects and parking lots, but very little new development with accessible housing. In the last election cycle, Schieve was even called a“bulldozer queen.” As developers demolish the motels, other politicians, residents and activists are concerned about the displacement of thousands of people who relied on the motels, which were cheaper than most other available options, and often didn’t require background checks or deposits.

Former residents of a now destroyed motel. Our Town Reno file photo.

Jacobs and Its Neon Line without Motels

One of the new projects which is buying up and destroying motels is called the Neon Line, financed by Jacobs Entertainment, a gaming, hospitality, and entertainment company based in Golden, Colorado. This development will display various art, such as pieces from Burning Man, over a half mile distance on west Fourth Street in downtown Reno. Other cleared out land might be used for new apartment buildings, but that remains unclear.

Above a video by student journalist Karina Dominguez on the same theme in which Lacy Foster is also interviewed.

Lacy Foster, the front desk manager of the Desert Rose Inn, one of the last motels still standing in the area, which Jacobs Entertainment would also like to buy, is critical of the project. “It is all about money, no one cares where these people will go because, I mean, they are poor,” she said.

“It is so expensive to live here, if it continues, I don’t know where people will go, I don’t know what I will do.” Foster is also a resident of the motel.

As more hi-tech companies move into the region, rents and housing costs have increased significantly in the last five to seven years. “Reno has turned a working class population into the homeless,” John Fry, the manager of the Economy Inn, said.

The Star Dust Lodge was another motel recently destroyed amid the Jacobs Entertainment Fourth street buyout.

Vulnerable Populations

At events about motels and homelessness, city council meetings and in interviews with local media, representatives for Jacobs Entertainment have stressed displaced motel residents have been relocated, but exact details are hard to verify.

“We certainly worry about our most vulnerable populations,” Schieve said during our recent interview. “And that is our senior citizens, right?” There have been several initiatives recently through the Housing Authority to expand affordable housing for local seniors, but many homeless encountered at the shelter and along the river are seniors. Many residents of motels still standing are seniors.

In the mid 20th century, Reno motels were a main attraction for tourists. “I always thought the motels were a cute little quirk of our history,” said Sofia Lombardo, a Reno resident who has lived here her whole life. Our Town Reno file photo.

Blight or History?

Schieve introduced the Blight Buster project in 2017, but what Schieve calls blight some people call history. The motels have been in Reno for a long time and their vintage signs are an attraction to some.

Then there is the opposite view, especially from the inside. People who have stayed inside the motels, reviews left on Yelp, and visits by politicians point to motels with less than pristine room interiors.

Outside the still standing Desert Rose Inn. Photo by Gracie Gordon.

Worried about Gentrification or Mental Health Issues?

While some who have nostalgia about the motels and warn of too much gentrification, Schieve said she believes a problem Reno should be more focused on is mental health.

“We are dead last in the nation on mental health which is so unacceptable.” According to an article published in the Huffington Post in 2016, “Nevada Is The Worst State For People With Mental Health Challenges.”

“I think that’s what, you know, we really have got to start focusing on. We focused on the revitalization, we focused on bringing in jobs and that’s all great. But, with more people there are more challenges. And, I see so much of [the challenges] because of being a mayor on the ground level”.

Schieve says she is hopeful that several programs will be created to try and improve local mental health care with the overall goal to increase the quality of life for people living in the Reno area.

Reporting by Our Town Reno shared with Reynolds Sandbox

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Reynolds Sandbox

Reynolds Sandbox

Showcasing innovative and engaging multimedia storytelling by students with the Reynolds Media Lab in Reno.