BUSINESS

Firecreek Crossing Resort-Casino project to be built on South Virginia Street in Reno

New Reno casino by California-based Elevation Entertainment will include a hotel with a rooftop pool as well as a large public park.

Jason Hidalgo
Reno Gazette Journal
View Comments

Reno is set to get its first ground-up hotel-casino project in decades as a California-based real estate and entertainment company is doubling down on The Biggest Little City.

The new development, tentatively named the Firecreek Crossing Resort-Casino project, will be located on the corner of Kietzke Lane and South Virginia Street. In addition to a hotel-casino with a lobby bar, initial plans for the project include a public park, restaurants, food court and beer garden.

“This project is going to be a complete game changer for entertainment in Reno,” said Ryan Stone, co-owner and CEO of Elevation Entertainment, when reached via a Zoom call. “Reno deserves it and needs it, and when people see the design and how much detail we put into making this great, people are going to be excited.”

More in gaming:Legends Bay Casino, the first new Reno-Sparks casino in decades, holds grand opening

Elevation Entertainment, which filed a site plan with the city of Reno today for its hotel-casino, specializes in constructing and renovating boutique hotels. The company also developed two upscale card rooms in California — the Stones Gambling Hall in Sacramento and the Seven Mile Casino in Chula Vista. 

Elevation Entertainment’s interest in Reno started after California kicked off mandatory business closures in early 2020 due to COVID-19, according to Stone. The COVID-19 lockdowns pushed the company to look outside the state to find new opportunities and diversify its portfolio.

“We started looking at Reno’s demographics, the growth of the city and the fact that there hasn’t been a new (hotel-casino development) in Reno for decades,” Stone said.

“We also liked Nevada’s pro-business approach while California had a different approach.”

A rendered image of the Firecreek Crossing Resort-Casino project by Elevation Entertainment.

What it took to start a new hotel-casino project in Reno

This is not the first time that a company has tried to put a casino on the site where Elevation Entertainment plans to build its project.

Six years ago, a well-known player in the Southern Nevada gaming scene, Station Casinos, staked its claim for a casino on the same street corner to much fanfare — as well as strong opposition from one of the big names in the local gaming scene.

Plans released by Station Casinos included a 90,000-square-foot facility with nearly 21,000 square feet of gaming space as well as a sportsbook and sports bar. The plans also included a five-screen cinema, a 12-lane bowling alley and four restaurants.

Then COVID-19 happened.

Even after Nevada lifted its mandatory shutdown of casinos, a few Station Casinos properties in the Las Vegas area remained closed and were eventually demolished and sold. Meanwhile, the company also listed two of its Reno properties for sale, even as Station Casinos maintained that it could still move forward with the development of its previously announced project.

The Firecreek Crossing Resort-Casino hotel project is planned to be built on the corner of Kietzke and S. Virginia St. just across the south end of the Reno-Sparks Convention Center.

For Elevation Entertainment, however, Station Casinos’ change in plans presented an opportunity.

Stone, who described the site as an “A+++” location, called it a perfect fit for Elevation Entertainment, especially given the company’s focus on infill development and revitalization. The site is on a busy intersection of Reno but has been vacant for many years. Although the sale has not officially closed, the company is currently under contract to buy the land.

“What we have really been doing is taking underused and undervalued sites and redeveloping them,” Stone said. “We were fortunate to run into the Station site and saw its immediate potential.”

At the same time, building a new casino in Reno-Sparks is easier said than done. Just ask Olympia Gaming, which took more than 15 years before finally opening the new Legends Bay Casino in Sparks this summer after initially purchasing the land in 2006. 

In addition to facing opposition from competitors as well as some politicians, Olympia Gaming’s plans were also impacted by the Great Recession and the pandemic.

Elevation Entertainment is no stranger to dealing with challenges, Stone said.

“It took two years to put all the pieces together. That’s the reality,” Stone said. “It’s a complicated deal with a lot of moving parts but we’re good at complicated deals.”

A rendered image of the Firecreek Crossing Resort-Casino project by Elevation Entertainment.

How Elevation Entertainment tackled the room problem

Part of the complication surrounding the deal involved acquiring multiple parcels.

In addition to the 7.76-acres previously owned by Station Casinos, Elevation Entertainment also acquired a nearby 12-acre property. Doing so allows the company to have more options for the Firecreek Crossing Resort-Casino project, said Masis Kevorkian, co-owner and president of Elevation Entertainment.

The larger property size also allows it to help address one of the main criticisms about the former Station Casinos project. Back in 2016, for example, John Farahi — CEO of Atlantis Casino Resort Spa parent company Monarch Resort — noted the project’s lack of hotel rooms while opposing the Station Casinos proposal.

“All I’m saying is bring a project that brings in more tourism and enlarges the pie, which helps the whole community,” Farahi said at the time. “We would love for Station Casinos to build what they planned in 2005, which included a component of rooms, because they do a great job in building facilities like they’ve done in Las Vegas.”

Fast forward to today and one key difference between the Elevation Entertainment project and the Station Casinos proposal is the addition of a hotel. The Firecreek Crossing Resort-Casino includes 201 rooms and 48 suites as part of its plans.

The reason why Station Casinos likely was not able to add rooms in its proposal was the lack of space, according to Kevorkian. Elevation tried to come up with plans twice based on the original site size but was not successful.

“I think the issue for (Station Casinos) is probably because you can’t make the site work on 8 acres,” Kevorkian said. 

“What we’ve done is acquire the adjacent 12 acres to make the site buildable and that’s why we’re doing rooms. There has been some pushback in the past about a lack of room so we’re doing a full-service hotel-casino resort with lots of open space and gaming.”

A rendered image of the Firecreek Crossing Resort-Casino project by Elevation Entertainment.

‘We're not going anywhere’

Before the Firecreek Crossing Resort-Casino project can truly move forward, it first needs to get approval.

Kevorkian expects any project to have its share of pushback but said the company plans to engage the community with full transparency. Getting buy-in from the city is also important given the significant expense involved in developing the project, Stone added.

Garrett Gordon, a Reno lawyer representing Elevation Entertainment, expressed confidence that the project will pass muster with the city of Reno. In addition to providing jobs, the project will generate property and room taxes from a location that has been languishing and in dire need of redevelopment, according to Gordon.

“We did process this site with special use permits in the past and they were always approved by the city council,” Gordon said. 

“This site has also been blighted. Walk it today and there’s needles and there’s garbage there. It has ... campaign signs that everyone is sick of looking at.”

The project is also exactly what the city has asked for from a zoning perspective, Gordon said.

“This shouldn’t be controversial,” Gordon said.

Gaming will remain an important focus for the site. The Firecreek Crossing Resort-Casino project’s gaming floor will span 62,300 square feet — nearly three times the size of Station Casinos’ previous proposal. The casino will feature 1,250 slot machines, more than 40 table games and a sportsbook.

Gaming, however, will only be one part of the overall experience planned for the Firecreek Crossing Resort-Casino project. Elevation is also betting big on the addition of a public park with various amenities, including music and entertainment.

“What you’re going to see as our main amenity will be the public park on South Virginia Street,” Stone said. “It’s going to be equivalent to a beer garden with multiple restaurants and a food court, lots of fire pits and hanging lights.”

“It will be a place for the community to enjoy the great outdoors,” Stone added. “We’re really going to play off what makes people want to live in Reno, and that’s the experience outdoors.”

Elevation Entertainment also plans to engage in community activities, including donating space from a planned 20,000-square-foot conference center for public events.

Ultimately, everything boils down to leveraging the energy and growth in Reno to create something new and exciting, according to Stone. The company expects the project to help drive competition in the gaming space while also breathing new life to the area and surrounding businesses.

Asked about ongoing concerns about the national economy and the fact that one company already bailed on a gaming project on the same site, both co-owners of Elevation Entertainment responded that the company was here to stay. 

Despite being based out of state, the company is all-in when it comes to the Reno area and its potential, Kevorkian said. 

“The truth is, we’re not going anywhere,” Kevorkian said. “We just love Reno and we love Nevada.

“Whether its’ working with the city or regulators … or doing philanthropy and supporting the right groups, we look forward to making that investment long-term in Reno.”

View Comments