Reno picks Cordish to revitalize it; City would like to draw a full house the way Vegas does; 'We've struggled for years'; Goal is to turn downtown into a family mecca


Reno, Nev., seeking to duplicate the economic royal flush being enjoyed by Las Vegas, has hired the Cordish Co. to help spark a revitalization of its entertainment core.

Reno's decision marks the second time in as many months that a city contemplating redevelopment has tapped Baltimore-based Cordish, best known locally for rejuvenating the derelict Power Plant two years ago into a $25 million retail and entertainment hub whose tenants include the ESPN Zone and Barnes & Noble Booksellers.

In August, Atlantic City chose Cordish to design a master plan for a potential $200 million project linking the resort's gambling casinos and famed boardwalk to its $254 million convention center. In all, that project involves 15 largely barren acres.

Reno will require Cordish to work on a much larger scale than the Power Plant project or Bayou Place in Houston, where the company revamped an aging convention center.

In Reno, Cordish will focus on a 32-block area currently dominated by casinos, hotels and other entertainment venues.

"It'll require a degree of master planning not required with the Power Plant or Bayou Place, because they are confined areas," said David S. Cordish, the company's chairman. "This has an added dimension, as if the city of Baltimore said to us, 'There's 20 acres at Inner Harbor East: What should we do with it?' "

The selection of Cordish caps a three-year effort by Reno officials to redevelop the city center, where casinos have served as the primary tourist attraction.

"We've struggled for years trying to rejuvenate our downtown," said Charles McNeeley, Reno's city manager, who met Cordish two years ago at a real estate industry conference in Baltimore. A number of our businesses have closed and, at the same time, gaming has moved across the country."

"We recognize that the world is changing and we need to do something more," McNeeley said.

"The idea is to diversify our economy. We've thought a lot about how we take the next step, and David Cordish brings us experience in that regard."

Cordish also is expected to work with the University of Nevada at Reno, which has expressed interest in moving its planetarium or other attractions downtown. Cordish also will study ways to bolster Reno's thriving arts com- munity, McNeeley said.

But just as in Atlantic City, Cordish will have to contend with the casinos, which traditionally have jealously guarded tourist and entertainment dollars. About 7 million tourists spend about $4.3 billion annually in Reno, according to the city's statistics.

"[The casinos] have looked to Las Vegas and the total experience they have developed there, and they've seen it's paying off in higher gaming revenue," Cordish said. "It's causing families to go and stay longer, and gambling isn't losing out at all."

Cordish will conduct a feasibility study over the next six months to determine what types of retail and entertainment would be best suited to Reno's downtown.

Cordish also is working on urban entertainment and retail projects in Hampton, Va., and Louisville, Ky. In Maryland, the company plans to begin reconstruction on the four-building Brokerage complex, which also will have an entertainment focus, by the end of this year.

In addition, Cordish will raze US Airways Arena in Landover to make way for a $150 million retail and entertainment complex.

"[David Cordish is] clearly one of the top developers in the country," McNeeley said. "His reputation is outstanding. I don't think he has ever started a project that he hasn't finished, and everyone raves about his quality and commitment to a project."

Pub Date: 10/07/99

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