Special Events Plaza: Reno, Nevada

City Parks Forum Case Study


When one thinks of Reno, first thoughts are commonly of gambling, Lake Tahoe, or "The Biggest Little City in the World." But Reno is now becoming better known as an arts and special events site, for programs like Hot Summer Nights, Street Vibrations, and Artown, a month-long arts festival in July that draws nearly 140,000. These events occur throughout Reno, from Virginia Street, which traverses the central casino area, to Wingfield Park, which is on a small island in the middle of the Truckee River. The lack of a centrally located special events site of sufficient size has limited attendance, the types of events, and the city's ability to become well known and respected as an arts community.

Reno came to The City Parks Forum to obtain assistance in identifying the best site for the new special events plaza. Among the issues that needed to be resolved were competing land uses, tax generation, and funding to construct and operate the venue, as well as the issue of moving events from the casino's front doors. With a grant from The City Parks Forum, the city partnered with Artown to develop a project to study the economic impact and functionality of alternative locations for the special events plaza.

An additional element was finding a location that could also house the "homeless" outdoor ice rink, purchased in 1996 and moved every year for various reasons. Setup and dismantling costs exceeded $100,000 every year, and annual attendance has ranged from 31,000 to more than 54,000, depending in part on the location.

The first step in the process was forming an executive committee from various cultural organizations to guide the process. Artown retained a consultant to determine the ideal location, based on tourism, economic development, benefit to surrounding property values, appeal to local residents, and multiple uses each site could provide. They met with more than 100 community leaders, conducted a large-scale planning analysis and plan of action process, identified potential facility locations and connectivity, and outlined potential funding sources.

The location identified as the best opportunity for community gathering was where Virginia Street crosses the Truckee River, Reno's "Cultural Crossroads." The site, on Virginia Street between the river and 3rd Street, provides sufficient space for special events, concerts, Artown events, and the ice rink. It also connects the "cultural string of pearls," eight cultural facilities interspersed and connected by public parks and the river.

The selected site was controversial, as noted by Mayor Jeff Griffin. It was the site of the former Mapes Hotel, a historically significant building that was demolished, at significant public cost, due to extreme deterioration. Local political opinion was against this site — it was thought that the cost to clear it for development needed to be recouped with a new hotel or other commercial establishment. However, the consultant's market analysis indicates that Reno has the public demand for the types of special events that may be held at the outdoor venue. The plaza is anticipated to provide a positive economic impact to the city via tourism dollars and increased adjacent property values.


Nanette Smejkal, Director
Parks, Recreation, and Community Services
City of Reno
Northeast Community Center
1301 Valley Road
Reno, NV 89512
(P) 775-334-6265

Beth McMillen, Executive Director
P.O. Box 3058
Reno, NV 89505
(P) 775-322-1538