The Generator looks to turn blight into art

RENO, Nev. (KOLO) - A blighted parcel of land just east of downtown Reno may soon have a new tenant. The land at the end of East Commercial Row near the Wells Avenue overpass is currently home to weeds, broken glass, trash, and a homeless camp. But Aric Shaprio, development director of The Generator, doesn't see a blighted wasteland. He sees a blank canvas.

"Again and again artists go into the least wanted spaces in the community and we absolutely love it," Shapiro said. "We do. We love making things better."

The Generator, an arts and maker space best known for creating large-scale sculptures for Burning Man, is eyeing the land for a new 35-40,000-square-foot facility complete with an outdoor performance space and a sculpture park.

"Under the bridge we can do farmers markets, theater performances, music, anything you can imagine," Shapiro said.

Right now, The Generator is in Sparks, but Shapiro says the site in Reno better fits their vision for the future.

"We really hope we can connect in with all of the focus, all of the attention that is going on in downtown Reno, and in this location we can sort of bridge that gap between downtown Reno, the Wells historic district, and even a little of that Midtown action, and bring everyone together." he said.

The land is owned by the City of Reno; however, the shape and location of the property limits what can be built there. Decades of abandonment have left the property in poor shape. A foundation from a paint factory that closed in the 1950s remains, but not the only people who come to that area are a few homeless individuals looking to be left alone.

"It's part of the walking path of the Truckee River that I definitely would not take my grandma through or my mom, really," Shaphiro said. "But thanks to an agreement with the Reno City Council, the tone of the property could change."

The city and The Generator have agreed to terms of a long-term lease for the property with the option to buy it for $10 down the road. The Generator will also be leasing a riverfront parcel and a portion of the old Wells Avenue Bridge for $550 a month. As a condition of the lease, the non-profit will have to restore the riverfront property and plant native vegetation. The sculpture park must also be installed within 18 months. When all is said and done, Shapiro says the property will be family-friendly, and people wont be afraid to walk the river path.

"Of course we still have to raise $4.5 to 5 million to make this happen," Shapiro said.

While the lease terms have been agreed upon, the council still needs to make a final vote on the matter. That is expected to happen sometime in March.