By Ray Hagar, Nevada Newsmakers
Developer Lance Gilman helped change the economic fortunes of the Truckee Meadows in the 21st century with the Tahoe-Reno Industrial Complex (TRI) in Storey County, just east of Reno-Sparks.
Technology titans such as Blockchains, Google and Switch — plus large manufacturers such as Tesla — have located there, bringing jobs, population growth and new money to Northern Nevada.
Yet with little vacancy remaining at TRI, Gilman and partner Roger Norman Sr. are developing another mega-industrial park just east of TRI in Fernley.
Gilman predicted on Nevada Newsmakers that it will make Fernley — about 34 miles east of Reno — the “epicenter” of the regional economy.
“Fernley is just ripe for development,” Gilman told host Sam Shad. “It is in the epicenter of what is going to happen over the next 10 or 15 years in Northern Nevada. Fernley is the epicenter.”
The Fernley industrial park will enjoy the same logistical advantages that made TRI attractive — like a nearby cargo airport in Reno and the adjacent rail-lines and Interstate highway system that can move products to any point in the western U.S. in one day or less.
Gilman said he is nearing a deal for the first 6,000 acres in the Fernley park: “That gives us a pretty nice start of where we want to go,” he said. However, Gilman estimates the potential build-out to be more than 20,000 acres.
The TRI is billed as the largest industrial park in North America. Yet in some ways, the Fernley development could be larger, Gilman said.
“TRI was 104,000 acres but in net building acreage, you are talking less than 20,000 acres,” he said. “And so where we are going right now with Fernley is more than 20,000 acres. So it is certainly not 104,000 acres but in some ways, a larger opportunity.”
Yet a lot of work must be done to get the projects ready for potential tenants.
The land Gilman is looking at for the park is a checkerboard of public and private lands. That means he must purchase land from the federal government, which can be a long process muddled in red tape and politics.
“It is an assembly,” he said. “We have to acquire a lot of pieces. We’ve got 6,000 acres. We’ve got a nice start but we need another 15,000 acres. And it’s out there. We can purchase some of it from private parties. We can work with the federal government on some of the pieces. All of the elements are there, as long as everybody will work together.”
One of Gilman’s first tasks is to complete a series of public works projects on the scale necessary for a small city
Building a bypass freeway around Fernley will be necessary for the increased traffic. The current streets of Fernley were not made for heavy truck traffic, Gilman said.
Privately-funded road construction was also part of the successful formula for TRI, Gilman added.
“We are going to have to do something very similar to TRI in that we are going to have to improve the interchange on I-80,” he said. “We will have to bring in some form of a bypass road around Fernley. Right now in Fernley, all the truck traffic, everything that is happening in that one little community goes to one traffic light, right in the center of town. It is not a large enough intersection to handle the truck traffic there, so you are going to have to have a bypass.”
But the bypass is only the start of the needed improvements.
“You are going to have to have a freeway,” Gilman said. “You are going to have to get a bridge across the (Truckee) river. You are going to have to have a bridge across the railroad tracks.”
That’s why Gilman wants a park with at least 20,000 acres.
“In order to fund that kind of top-heavy front-loaded project, you are going to have to have enough land where you are going to foresee a return in your investment and so it is going to take a 20,000-acre project to really handle something like that,” he said. “(U.S. Highway) 95A is going to have to be improved. and with Fernley, of course, you are going to really have to address all the utilities — your water company, sewer company, all of the roads.”
The Fernley park must have infrastructure with water, sewer, cable and other necessities before business can be attracted, Gilman said. Major companies don’t want to just buy some piece land in a desert, he said. There’s too much risk in that.
“So when a company comes into our community, if you’ve just got a piece of raw land with nothing, there’s so much risk factor to that,” Gilman said. “They can buy the land, but the risk is zoning and the building and the grading and the utilities and the ‘Don’t worry, it will be there when you get there” promise. That doesn’t work very well.
Gilman will use the same formula in Fernley as he did at TRI to make building there an easier process.
“With TRI, it was a quick study (for the prospective companies),” Gilman said. “The roads were already there. The utilities were in the road and you have pre-approved environmental (permits) and so, the risk factors were handled to the degree that you don’t see in any other part of the United States.”
Gilman does not expect or want much financial help from the City of Fernley to get the project moving, saying “we will bring our money to the table because they (Fernley city officials) are not in a position right now to invest anymore than Virginia City was back in 2000.”
Gilman was referring dealing with the Storey County government in the early days of the TRI, in the early 2000s