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Fourth street has had an unfortunate reputation as being a dodgy part of Reno with drug sales, homeless people, and adult entertainment. Today, it looks like a run down street, but this once was a vibrant part of Reno with the Lincoln highway 40 running straight through.
“I love fourth street. I really do,” said Hawaii, a middle-aged homeless woman who lives within the Fourth Street corridor. Hawaii is one of many homeless people who regularly come to Fourth street to pass the time, meet with friends, and receive food assistance.
But right across the street stands a modern symbol that represents everything that Fourth street is not.
“We can walk out onto the main corridor here,” said Alicia Barber, a historian who has published several works on Reno history.
“We’re at the Nevada California Oregon railway depot which was just this past year turned into a restaurant, brewery and distillery, called The Depot. But the building had been vacant for about 10 years. East Fourth street was neglected for so long, after the interstate was constructed in the mid 70s”, said Barber.
“It really did become obsolete as a highway and immediately the business started to suffer and there wasn’t that sidewalk traffic and the street traffic that had made it so busy before so there was a often a sense of desolation.”
However, that desolation didn’t last. There’s a change here, and The Depot might be just the beginning.
“For the first time in my life time, and I’m 55 now, cities are cool. Everything is moving in the direction of cities. Fourth street has great bones” said Tom Dallessio, an executive director of the Philadelphia based organization “Next City.”
Earlier this month, he and 40 other urban professionals from all across the country came to Reno, in part, to come up with ideas to re-energize Fourth street.
The way to give it a push, he suggested, is to start small and practical.
“Having bicycle lanes, adding clear lanes for traffic for pedestrian crossings if there’s an opportunity to create dedicated bus lanes or travel lanes that would be important.”
That seems easy enough, but for the business owners on Fourth street, it is not that simple. They believe that a few aesthetic changes won’t address the larger social issue.
“They see these kind of grungy types and they see the prostitutes walking down the street and people are afraid to come down here,” said Otto Braun. He and Richard Viera own The Cadillac Lounge.
The exterior of the Cadillac lounge isn’t much to look at, but inside country Western music fills the small dark room.Regulars sit at the bar smoking, chatting up the bartender Sean and Zack, while the resident labrador happily greets anyone walking in.
The Cadillac Lounge is a well-known gay bar, but all are welcome here. And in many ways, it symbolizes what Fourth street strives to be– retro, with old-school character.
“Fourth street is a little rough around the edges, but we’re very welcoming.” said Braun.
The homeless shelter on Fourth street is close to the downtown area. In years past, the homeless were pretty much left alone because people rarely had a reason to visit. Now with plans to clean up the area and with businesses picking up, the two worlds are clashing.
“Dirty old town,” is how Tony, a resident of Fourth Street describes his neighborhood. “If there’s a sin to be done out here on fourth street its being done. Prostitution, drugs, alcohol, I mean it’s all here. The only thing I can say good about Fourth Street in Reno, if you’re homeless is that there’s no way you can go hungry.”
Historian Alicia Barber is aware that something needs to be done to revitalize Fourth Street, but she believes “a lot of people want to just renovate those motels or … get them back into more of a gentrified situation or open them up as motels again.”
She feels that when developers and business owners draft plans to renovate the area, there needs to be a sense of compassion for those, like Hawaii, who call Fourth Street their home.“I love fourth street… I really don’t want them to kick us out,” she said.