The Generator announced in a press conference this morning that its permanent location will soon be in the newly coined “Oddie District,” a mixed-use space in the former Lowe’s at 2450 Oddie Blvd. in Sparks.
The plan is for the Generator to be the $30 million development’s largest tenant, with 40,000 square feet. The building’s additional 60,000 square feet are slated for residential units, offices, retailers, food purveyors, and a beer garden/distillery/brewery. A Coeur d’Alene, Idaho-based company called the Innovation Collective will also have a presence, as both developer and tenant. (CEO Nick Smoot calls the Innovation Collective a “venture studio.” Its offerings include think tanks, book clubs, and leadership summits, and it has another development underway in North Las Vegas.)
“There are 24 big-box stores in the Reno area that nobody wants at any price,” said Doug Wiele, president of Foothill Partners, Inc., in a press conference this morning, refering to a long decline in large, brick-and-mortar retailers. His company, based in El Dorado Hills, California, is also converting Reno’s former Shoppers Square into Reno Public Market, another mixed-use development that will include a new branch of the Berkeley art studio complex Makers Paradise.
A developer’s view: Re-designing retail districts for community cohesion
I spoke with Wiele by phone back in July, when the Reno Public Market plans were being announced. He explained why he wants to see art studios and retail shops together in the same places.
“It seems to me that we are so balkanized … in our culture in little silos” Wiele said. He referred to the busy downtown retail districts that were the norm in American cities and towns before the 1960s. Aften then, retail largely moved to malls and strip malls in the outskirts and suburbs.
Wiele—whose website cites Maslow’s Heirarchy of Needs and Thomas Friedman’s book on what globalization does to culture—pointed out that before this retail migration, we tended to work, worship and shop near where we lived.
“It was all sort of mashed together in a much more rich context,” he said. “You ran into ideas that had never crossed your mind before. You ran into people who you don’t see in your ordinary lives.”
In the process of moving from Main Street to big-box, Wiele said, “We weakened the culture of our communities. Crazy and ambitious as it sounds, one property at a time, we want to start putting those things back together again.”
Same Generator, new goals
For the Generator staff, the idea of increased cultural cohesion is appealing. The organization spent its first seven years in a warehouse in a Sparks industrial district, and Communications Director Jessi “Sprocket” Janusee said that being closer to retail foot traffic and a residential neighborhood will help her group meet some goals they’ve been fleshing out for years.
“This space is so much more in a community that already exists,” Janusee said in an interview at this morning’s press conference, standing in the cavernous, skylit, building. “It’s on bus routes, and it’s really accessible. And there’s homes that are in walking distance. … We’ll be able to be connected to the neighborhood.”
“I think we’ve gotten a lot of flack for being more of a Burning-Man-exclusive place,” Janusee added. “And I think part of the problem with that is that we were kind of hidden.”
She said that in many ways, the new Generator will resemble the old Generator. Plans include a wood shop, a metal shop, and enough space to continue making large Burning Man sculptures. “We’ll still be, like, a safe haven for that weirdo artist that wants to make stuff, so our core will stay the same for sure,” she said.
And some things, she expects, will change. “We are currently hiring for an education coordinator,” Janusee said. “We definitely want to be doing programming with the youth, like K through 12, doing afterschool programs and things where we go to the schools and bring kids here on the weekends and offering summer camp stuff. We want to make sure that we’re accessible and available for K through 12 in this neighborhood. For sure.”
She said there will be full-time front desk attendants and bilingual tour guides to welcome visitors. “That’s definitely a huge part of the new initiatives,” Janusee said. “I really want everything to be in Spanish. … Coming into this new neighborhood, it’s super important to me that we’re accessible to all.”
Construction of the new Oddie District is slated to begin in February. The target date for the first phases of occupancy is September 2021, and the target date for completion is early 2022.
The Generator is launching a capital campaign for programming in its new location. You can donate or learn more here. The group also invites the public to complete a survey to help determine the community’s needs for the new location.