That Tattler was up to his usual mischievousness this morning when under the coop door slid a copy of the New York Times about baseball in Reno, Nevada. Before I could get to the door, the tattler from the east had fled the coop.

The Reno plan sounds remarkably similar to what some have envisioned for Ypsilanti’s Water Street Project. The Tatt would get season tickets for the whole family if they built a stadium at Water Street.

Here is the complete story.

Stuart Katzoff, the developer of Reno’s new baseball stadium, poses near home plate. The park will open in April 2009.

Stuart Katzoff, the developer of Reno’s new baseball stadium, poses near home plate. The park will open in April 2009.

September 24, 2008

A Ballpark Is Rising Where the Trains Once Whistled Through Reno, Nev.

RENO, Nev. — A 10,000-seat minor-league baseball stadium is to start rising next month as the first part of a $231 million sports and entertainment district that is expected to transform this city’s abandoned railyards. Stretching over an eight-acre site near the Truckee River, the project is intended to bring new commercial life to Reno’s faded downtown.

Set for completion in April, in time for the 2009 season, the ballpark will be the home of the Triple-A baseball franchise formerly known as the Tucson Sidewinders. The new name of the team, a farm club of the Arizona Diamondbacks, will be the Reno Aces.

The development partners and team owners are Stuart Katzoff, a New York loft developer; his father, Jerry Katzoff; and the shopping-center developer Herb Simon. (Mr. Simon also owns the Indiana Pacers basketball team, along with his brother Mel.)

Eighteen months after the completion of the stadium and several restaurant buildings, the developers plan to add 300,000 square feet more of retail storefronts, some carved out of antique railroad warehouses and freight-loading buildings, and all centered on a large “entertainment plaza.”

“This is the biggest thing ever to come to Reno,” Mr. Katzoff said.

Reno, with a population of more than 330,000 in the metropolitan area, may be best known to many motorists as a row of high-rise casino hotels along Interstate 80 on the way to Lake Tahoe.

The city, however, also has a downtown area of charming narrow streets that date back to the city’s 19th-century heyday as a rail hub. The railyard and warehouse district lie along the southern edge of the downtown, a few blocks north of the Truckee River.

Stuart Katzoff, 35, was a developer before he was a team owner. He was born and brought up in Princeton, N.J., and his first career was in law; he briefly worked for the trial lawyer F. Lee Bailey, followed by a stint at Lehman Brothers selling institutional assets. As a developer, he recently completed the 84-unit 45 John Street in Lower Manhattan, where condominiums are priced at $1,050 to $1,100 a square foot. He is also developing a group of homes and town homes in Medford, N.J., and a hotel in Dallas.

A self-described lifelong baseball fan, Mr. Katzoff expects the team to be profitable and self-supporting. “The two concepts, baseball and retail, actually feed off each other,” he said. He expects attendance of more than 5,000 people at each game, and with 72 home games a season, his entertainment district can expect at least 360,000 people annually.

Baseball fans are expected to help much of the downtown area, not just the ballpark, according to the city. The stadium will have limited parking, and fans who cannot park there will choose sites scattered throughout the downtown area, like parking garages in office buildings, and walk to the game. In the process, they will inevitably pass the stores and restaurants of downtown merchants.

Reno officials took an active role in bringing the Tucson team to Nevada. Soon after Mr. Katzoff and his partners bought the team for $15 million in 2006, “we heard through sources in baseball that they were looking for a site,” said the city’s redevelopment director, Mark Lewis. In February 2006, he approached Branch B. Rickey III, president of the Pacific Coast League, a Triple-A league, the highest level below the majors, and asked him to set up a meeting with Mr. Katzoff.

While the city offered about a dozen potential stadium sites to the team owners, the former railyard was “our first choice of the bunch,” Mr. Lewis said.

The city has agreed to contribute up to $31 million toward several costs, including that of assembling the multi-block site from several owners. The city’s payment will come from a car rental tax, Mr. Lewis said. Another $40 million is being provided in tax-increment financing, in which projected gains in property taxes are applied against debt issued to finance the development.

The city had already begun investing heavily in the site in 2003, eventually spending more than $300 million to relocate the Union Pacific tracks that ran through the edge of downtown to a trench nearly 30 feet below street level.

“Every time the train came through, the city was cut in half,” Mr. Lewis said. By “undergrounding” the train, he added, “we took a place that had been the city’s backyard and turned it into the front yard.”

The removal of the above-ground tracks also helps to reconnect downtown Reno with the nearby Truckee River. The river, which had been degraded by industry and dumping, is undergoing considerable restoration. As part of a new river walk project, the city is planting native species along the banks, while developers are building a kayaking park on the waterway.

To design a master plan for the stadium area as well as most of the buildings, the developers hired the New York-based design firm of Beyer Blinder Belle. The goal of the master plan, according to Richard Metsky, a partner in the firm, is to “mirror the pedestrian scale of the older downtown area.” (The stadium itself is being designed by a separate firm, HNTB, with offices in Los Angeles and Kansas City, Mo.)

The buildings in the century-old district are mostly one or two stories tall. New buildings, Mr. Metsky added, will serve as “counterpoints of the high-rise casino buildings of the 1970s and ’80s that you find elsewhere in Reno.”

Meanwhile, Mr. Katzoff says he believes he may have stumbled on a new business line. As his deal with Reno has been publicized, he claimed, “we have been approached by five or six teams in similar situations.” Now, he said, “we are expanding our business model to become a developer of mixed-use retail projects surrounding ballparks.”

It is easier doing business with city officials in Reno than those in New York, according to Mr. Katzoff. “This is a groundbreaking event for Reno,” he said of the ballpark, “and the city is aggressive in its desire to make sure that the redevelopment happens.”