Truckee struggles with downtown businesses
Last December, the Nevada City Planning Commission approved an ordinance prohibiting any new ground-floor real estate offices from opening on the main street of their historic downtown.
It was a move that raised some eyebrows and caused pause for thought in Truckee.
As rent for commercial space in the eastern Nevada County town continues to climb, local merchants such as Earthsongs and the Truckee River Llama Ranch have been squeezed out.
Meanwhile, real estate agencies and other business offices have been moving in, a shift that is leaving some residents and town planners wondering where to draw the line.
“If you get an overabundance of ground-floor offices in your commercial district, it reduces the interest for shoppers on the street,” said Truckee Town Manager Tony Lashbrook. “The goal is to have retail and restaurants on the ground floor where the pedestrian traffic is.”
Stefanie Olivieri, downtown business owner and president of the Truckee Downtown Merchants Association, spoke at a recent Truckee General Plan meeting and said the town should pursue prohibition of ground-level offices.
Lashbrook said the town is looking into possible changes.
“We haven’t done anything specific yet, but it’s on our radar screen,” Lashbrook said. “Some (office space) is OK, but a lot is not. The question is where that balance is and how to deal with it.”
In Truckee’s commercial district, from the Donner Pass Road roundabout to Brockway Road, there are 10 non-retail offices on the street level.
“One of the reasons that the downtown is struggling to keep great retailers is because the rent is so high,” Olivieri said. “Merchants can’t afford to stay, but offices can. Landlords are not looking at the long run, and this will come back to bite them.”
Rent rates for downtown commercial spaces average between $3.50 to $4.50 per square foot, according to Olivieri.
“You have to be able to do a lot of business to be able to make those rents,” she said. “One of the most important things is to have great competitors. The more stores we have, the better it is for business because it brings more people.”
The decision to approve the ordinance in Nevada City was the result of a parallel trend in their own historical downtown, said City Clerk Cathy Wilcox-Barnes.
“Some of the businesses – the real estate agencies – felt that they were being singled out, and some people did not feel that government should regulate the [use of space],” Wilcox-Barnes said. “But since it passed, there hasn’t been much outcry, and we have had a couple more (retail) shops that have opened up in places where offices might have gone.”
But Realtors who were available for comment this week said that their prime downtown locations are essential for their good business, as well.
“I can appreciate the concern that retailers might have if the majority of space has become offices,” said Trinkie Watson, owner of the Chase International office on the first floor of the Truckee Hotel. “Being on the main strip is certainly a good opportunity for any business, and we felt that our location was a great opportunity for exposure for us, too.”
And there can be no contesting that the downtown real estate offices are making good money from their own choice spots. Last year, Tahoe Mountain Resorts sold $1.5 million from its Commercial Row location next door to the Cooking Gallery.
“Is this an important spot for us?” asked Jarod Mitchell, sales associate at Tahoe Mountain Resorts. “Absolutely.”
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