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Ousting offices from the Row

Christine Stanley
Sierra Sun

There is a bug in Truckee’s ear about offices occupying prime retail space on the ground floor along Commercial Row.

And while the topic is only in the discussion phase, it looks like the Truckee Downtown Merchants Association will push for more public input on the matter, and might eventually approach the town council to seek a resolution.

But as discussion and debate began to circulate at Wednesday’s Truckee Planning Commission meeting, it became apparent that the Commercial Row office use issue is twofold: The merchants association is complaining that office space downtown is eroding the shopping and dining experience and degrading a charming atmosphere.

Underlying that, however, is the fact that new lease prices on Commercial Row are now so high ” $3.50 to $4.50 per square foot ” that mom-and-pop retailers are fast becoming unable to afford them while real estate agencies, law offices and the like can.

“The real issue here is critical mass and the viability of Commercial Row. The downtown is going through a very difficult time right now,” said Stefanie Olivieri, president of the Truckee Downtown Merchants Association. “Rents are so high that we’re at a point now that the retail or restaurant tenant will decide to give up. It’s a perfect time to deal with this issue.”

But in dealing with the issue lie some juxtapositions.

Community members who spoke about high downtown rents at the planning commission meeting said they were largely against rent control. Some said that by eliminating office space from the first floor of Commercial Row, they envisioned that rent would go down. Others countered that it is incorrect that office space is driving up the rent rates.

“Truckee is going through the process of reinventing itself again and again and again. We are going through a phase,” said Tom Watson, managing partner for Truckee River Associates. “Rent will find its place based on market rates; it’s not driven by real estate offices. I predict that in the next three years, it will all be back to commercial in the core and that real estate (offices) will be pushed to Brickelltown.”

In December, officials in Nevada City approved an ordinance prohibiting any new ground-floor real estate offices from opening on the main street of their historic downtown. The decision came as the result of a similar trend on their main drag, Broad Street.

“It started with us two years ago with a little discussion here and there, then all of the sudden there were city council meetings,” said Susan Sotelo, an agent at Network Real Estate, the last new real estate office to be opened on Broad Street. “I feel bad for your real estate agents if this happens in Truckee. The only way you can solve this logically is by lowering the rents, and owners are not going to do that. We have merchants moving to Grass Valley because of rent.”

For Truckee, the next likely step will be for the merchants association to gather facts and figures and meet with town planning staff, said Planning Commission Chair Cadie Olsen. After that, it will be up to the town council to decide on where to go.


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