Local Firm Revitalizing Old Neighborhoods Using Existing Buildings

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RENO, NV - Much development takes place on the edges of the city, expanding outward. Two local women have made career doing the opposite.

Pam Haberman and Kelly Rae say they got the idea watching the city grow outward, climbing the hillsides that surround the valley. They had a different vision.

"Urban infill is the key to preserving our community and not having our mountainsides scraped away," says Rae. "Housing with existing infrastructure within the urban core of our city."

And with the firm they founded, Haberae Homes, they've marched to that different drum beat for years. The older neighborhoods surrounding the downtown core are sprinkled with past projects. Among them: an old fire station at Fifth and Morrill which now has a salon and bagel shop on the ground floor, residential lofts above. In an east-of-Wells Avenue neighborhood, a former electronics store, now a cozy home. Down at the south end of Wells, an old laundry, now a coffee shop.

There are many more repurposed commercial buildings, homes once decades past their prime. They've done some new construction too, new apartments built on old lots and, a growing urban trend, what are called "tiny homes," homes with a footprint of 400 to 500 square feet or less.

That's all done following that core philosophy.

Their latest project, an entire block along Mill Street between High and Willow, just down the street from the Auto Museum. There's a two-story former electronics supply store and a former grocery store, occupied in recent years by an antique collective and a rehab center. And in the back, a row of Craftsman bungalows.

A dozen years ago there were plans to level this lot and build town houses. That, says Kelly Rae, would have been a waste.

"You just can't build this character. You just can't built it anymore. It's beautiful and we wanted to preserve this block."

The bungalows have been a Haberae specialty. Rae says they are well-built and have a charm that can't be duplicated.

"Forget the shiny new appliances or the sheet rock," says Rae. "Character counts. The first thing our tenants are going to say is 'Oh, look how beautiful the brick is. Oh, look how beautiful the wood floors are. They don't care about the new stuff, but they have a connection to the old brick. They have a connection to the old wood."

On the corner of Mill and High, the transformation of a former rehab organization is already underway. A demolition crew is tearing out inside walls and ceilings.

When it's gutted and rebuilt, it will be Whipple Brewery and Distilling, a microbrewery and distillery with a bar and patio.

By the time it's taking shape, the two-story building next door will be in the process of conversion to urban-style lofts. The second story will have views of the downtown and mountains. The space between the two buildings will be an urban garden and patio. A space out back will contain ten 'tiny homes.'

Work should be completed by August of 2016. Then the whole block, long since in decline, will be reborn and with it, a piece of old Reno will start a new chapter of its history, just what Pam Haberman and Kelly Rae planned.

They say they already have their eye on a piece of property for their next project. They aren't saying where, but the smart bet is it's somewhere close to the downtown in a neighborhood that needs their treatment.

"Old buildings are beautiful," says Rae, "and not every new building is pretty, but old buildings, people always look at them and 'say they don't build them like that anymore.' And they don't. That's why we like to keep them."