It’s billed as the biggest little city in the world.
Of course, that would be Reno, Nev., a city of about 235,000, located roughly seven hours north of Las Vegas.
It’s home to the University of Nevada-Reno and many hotel and casinos. It’s also close to Lake Tahoe, making it another popular tourist destination in the state.
But casinos and tourism might soon take a back seat to a new type of economy in Reno.
After the Nevada Legislature last year gave the green light – and about $1.2 billion in tax incentives – to electric car manufacturer Tesla, Reno is poised to become a player in the high-tech industry.
Hillary Schieve has been mayor since 2014. She joins us in KNPR's continuing effort to interview mayors from all over the state.
What is the progress on Tesla's factory?
Well, it certainly is in the process. And if you have the opportunity to come and see it would blow many people's minds. But it certainly is an exciting project and also I think it has opened the nation's eyes to what we have to offer here.
Have you seen it benefiting Reno yet?
Yeah! Absolutely! We're seeing home values rise. They're creating jobs. Obviously, economically this is a huge boon for Reno. So, we're really excited they have chosen us and we're happy that they're here.
I have to tell you that I think another big piece of the pie for us is that being close to the Silicon Valley has really put us on the map with the Bay Area tech scene. We've really had a lot of momentum from different companies obviously Apple, Amazon, Switch. Companies like that and even smaller technology companies looking at Reno, because they're noticing what Tesla is doing here.
What else beside Tesla is serving that goal of being the eastern gateway to Silicon Valley?
I think we're seeing a lot of manufacturing. We're seeing a lot of drones. We have an incredible environment for drones certainly because our weather is obviously conducive in testing them. We're just seeing a lot diversity.
Can you tell us about the projects that are going on to develop downtown Reno?
You've seen the Mid-Town District, that was one of my babies. Nine years ago there was a group of us that sort of started that movement. The Mid-Town District has become a complete hub for entrepreneurs, eclectic bars, arts and culture has really taken a hold in that district.
But now, moving in 2016, my big goal is operation downtown and that is really to revitalize our downtown core and work on a blight reduction initiative. We're also starting to see the gateway project happen right into the university, really, really merging the university and the city together as one and bringing more millennials down into the downtown core.
We're also looking at a $50 million student housing project that is extremely exciting from a company that is very familiar with just student housing.
We have a lot of work to do. Certainly with these dilapidated motels. We are certainly sending a message that these will no longer be tolerated. We had to go into one last week and condemn some of the rooms in there. And I think we're going to be sending a very strong message that this will not be tolerated.
Some critics have said that the lion's share of money has gone north not south. What is your response to that?
I really believe we're one region. Whatever benefits either side truly benefits all of us. I would like to think we're one Nevada right? But I also think for many years Las Vegas has really had the spotlight because of tourism and the things that they've been doing. I think that we've struggled a little bit up here in the north. So, I think it's about time that we're excited to see some of that momentum happen here but also Faraday happening there.
Are you still seeing the linger effects of the recession?
I think it's one of those things that we're slowly coming out of. And of course, we have high hopes and big productions, but I still think people are skeptical on different spending habits and coming into different markets. I think that has effected the whole country.
What will the master plan do? How would it improve things?
Well I think that we have to really be careful about this master plan because this one opportunity to really get it right. And I think it will really help us plan and zone the areas of town that were sort of unrecognized. We never worked with the University of Nevada Reno before, which really was tragic. So they were sort of kept as a separate entity from the city. And now more than ever because of the master plan, we will merge with them which is great!
Obviously for business it's great. We never really had districts before so I think they can identify different sectors in the market and different communities in the market it can really help them thrive. And help them identify who they are what the purpose is right down from walkability to economic vitality.
Are you seeing parks and recreation funding coming back?
I will tell you this year we had a $10 million surplus which was really amazing. We were not expecting that. We had better expectations from our C-Tax. So that was fantastic. We actually paid off five bonds totally $10 million. We also, since I've been here paid down the debt by $110 million. I would say fiscally we've been very responsible. But here's the other piece of that, for so many years we neglected our parks and infrastructure and things like that. So now, we've got to go back to the table and we've got to play catchup. Because frankly, we did not have the finances to do such things but now we're starting to come out of that.
Would support a move to alter or change the property tax cap?
That's one of those things that has been a lot of talk about. You know it is capped at 3 percent. People get really nervous hearing about 'oh my goodness, a hike!'
In certain parts of the city you have the older areas that are at 1950 levels of property tax. Then the hard part becomes: how do we pay for services in 2016, right? But you have to be very careful because you have an older demographic living in those homes. So that's not something you can just jump in and change. I know there's been some frustration but I think before we run we need to walk. And make sure it's something that works for everyone. And that it doesn't affect those people that are senior citizens living in those types of homes.
Hillary Schieve, mayor, Reno
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