RENO, Nev. (AP) — Reno city officials plan to use a new $600,000 federal grant to take initial steps toward cleaning up contaminants along a 150-year-old railroad corridor where they want to restore the downtown riverfront, redevelop abandoned lots and build much-need housing.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced the funding last week through its Brownfields Program intended to assist communities redeveloping blighted urban land polluted with hazardous materials.
It's expected to leverage an additional $350 million in development opportunities for housing, retail, office space and expanded bus service, the city said.
Republican Rep. Mark Amodei said it's especially welcome during the economic downtown caused by the coronavirus outbreak.
“The timing could not be better,” Amodei said. “This starts the process for numerous sites to begin the return to being viable economic development sites.”
Mayor Hillary Schieve said Reno’s economy has been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“These much-needed funds come at an opportune time and will help our city council continue revitalizing downtown and our urban core,” she said.
John Busterud, EPA’s southwest regional administrator, said Reno is among 150 communities nationwide receiving $65.6 million in Brownfields funding focused on disadvantaged populations.
It provides an opportunity "to transform vacant, possibly contaminated sites into neighborhood assets,” he said.
More than 45% of the adults in the target area live below the poverty level, double the county average.
In partnership with the Reno Redevelopment Agency and the Community Foundation of Western Nevada. the city said the project could accommodate more than 1,000 housing units.
A similar EPA grant was used in 2003 for remediation at an old motel site to build the 7,000-seat Reno Events Center. Las Vegas also used a Brownfields grant in 2010 to launch remediation of a Union Pacific rail yard that's now the downtown home of Symphony Park, with a performing arts center, children's museum and medical center.
The project includes the oldest parts of downtown. It covers a five-block area stretching about 4 miles (6.4 km) straddling the Truckee River from near Keystone Avenue to I-580 near the Reno-Sparks line.
Like many urban cores, Reno’s downtown properties have been contaminated by more than a century of continuous occupancy. Many buildings contain lead and asbestos. Toxins in the soils include arsenic, mercury, herbicides and petroleum products.
Properties best suited to meet future housing and business needs are “also the most cost prohibitive because of existing conditions," according to the city's grant application.
Reno sprang up along the Union Pacific line in 1868. It became a gambling and resort center in the 1930s, but suffered an economic decline in the 1970s and again during the most recent recession a decade ago when unemployment reached 13.9% in 2011.
Since then, development of manufacturing and warehousing has occurred primarily on the edges of Reno with little in the urban core due partly to the high costs of evaluating and cleaning up contamination.
“As a result, the interior core of the city has not recovered from the recession like many of the suburban neighborhoods,” the application said.