by Ray Hagar, Nevada Newsmakers
The City of Sparks’ population has increased more than 18 percent in the past decade and now is projected to have than 107,000 residents, according to US Census figures.
That growth has been fueled by the addition of major employers like Tesla, Panasonic and Google at the Tahoe-Reno Industrial Center (TRI) in neighboring Storey County. Yet that growth faces an eventual halt, Sparks Mayor Ed Lawson said on Nevada Newsmakers.
“The biggest problem we have is that we don’t have anywhere to grow,” Lawson told host Sam Shad. “Frankly, we have an inventory of five years of land. Once that is sold out, we become San Francisco and all this land you see surrounding us might as well be ocean.”
The land Lawson refers to as ‘ocean’ is federal land and Sparks leaders are working with Nevada’s Congressional delegation in Washington D.C. on land-transfer legislation.
Yet the shortage also has Sparks leaders thinking of a new form of growth — building up instead of out, Lawson said.
“We have had plenty of land in the past but now we are at the point where we don’t have any land to grow to so we are going to have to go vertical,” Lawson said. “And as we go vertical, it gets more expensive but you also save a little money on services, so police and fire is less expensive because you don’t have to build a new firehouse and staff it or put more police on the street.”
Lawson’s “vertical vision’ has already come to fruition in downtown Sparks, where the skyline has been transformed by multiple-story apartment and condo complexes.
Many multi-story apartment houses have also been built near The Legends retail/shopping complex as Sparks scrambles to keep up with housing demands for the influx of workers for the booming businesses at TRI, billed as a biggest industrial park in North America.
“In the vision speech I have been giving to the community to get this lands bill done, is we are going to have designated vertical areas, with downtown Sparks being one and along the Oddie corridor being another, and then we want to take back our river,” Lawson said.
Areas around Oddie Boulevard have large Hispanic populations, Lawson said, adding that 23 percent of Sparks residents are Hispanic.
“The Oddie Corridor is prime for redevelopment,” Lawson said. “We’ve had some meetings with the Hispanic community and we are putting together a task force to see how they want to grow.”
Lawson sees an Oddie Corridor project as a way to unite Hispanic areas in Reno and Sparks. Lawson estimated there’s more than 150 acres that could be redeveloped in the Oddie Corridor.
“With the completed street that goes from Pyramid (Way) and Oddie Boulevard over to Wells (Ave.), it is a natural connection between the Hispanic population in Reno and in Sparks,” Lawson said.
Lawson envisions neighborhoods with shops, businesses and restaurants that eventually could be tourist attractions in the Oddie Corridor.
“I don’t know if anyone has looked at Olvera Street in LA, but it has become it’s own destination with shops and small businesses,” Lawson said. “On the weekends, it becomes a tourist destination for folks who live in the area and out of the area. It is a Hispanic area and we are looking to emulate some of that but we’ll have the (local) communities input as well.”
Lawson also envisions a vertical residential district on the banks of the Truckee River.
“Every city in America would love to have a river run through it and we have one,” Lawson said, noting the issue of homeless encampments near the river.
“The idea is to put housing along the river and make that a community,” he said. “You would have a river district down there and that would be one of our city centers where we have high density and it helps bring people back to that river. It does several things for us. Along the river, you get great scenery and paths stay cleaner, brighter, happier. When you are down there at night, a lot of things can happen. When you have people down there, things don’t seem to happen as much.”
Another issue that could halt or hamper growth is the 65-year-old Reno-Sparks sewer system, Lawson said. Sewer repairs are badly needed and are Lawson’s top priority when the federal government begins its national infrastructure-repair plans.
“We are absolutely hopeful that the infrastructure program that is being rolled out by President Biden will have some money for us to do some of this repair work,” he said.
“Right now, just to put a Band-Aid on the existing sewer plant that Reno and Sparks owns jointly (Reno owns about 65 percent and Sparks 35 percent), that is around $250 million,” he said. “To make real progress to bring it up to date — remember it is a 65-year old facility — is around $1 billion. I don’t know how you divide $1 billion between 400,000 people (who live in the Reno-Sparks area) but that is a lot of money.”
As part of the federal land transfer, Lawson wants to develop the current federal land that lies between the area of northeast Sparks and the TRI in Storey County.
“We are currently working on a lands bill and it is all over Washoe County but the main portion of it that really helps the City of Sparks is about 40,000 acres that we have identified to the east,” Lawson said.
“There is an infill part that is perfect for us to infill into and cater to those jobs out there, cater to those widget makers that are going to work for Tesla and Panasonic and maybe Blockchains and other businesses out there, where they can live with us in Washoe County, pay taxes in Washoe County and supply to Storey County.
Lawson wants to see a highway built from northeast Sparks, near La Posada Drive, to the USA Parkway, which is the main road into TRI. He said widening the current I-80 near TRI would be up to three times as expensive as building the new road.
“Eighty percent of the people who work in Storey County live with us in Reno and Sparks and 80 percent of that 80 percent lives north of I-80,” he said.
It would also help ease air pollution in the Truckee Meadows, Lawson said.
“We can help the commute by putting a more direct road, a shorter road. If we put 10,000 cars a day on this new road from La Posada to USA Parkway, we’ll save about 25 tons of carbon emissions daily,” he said.