BY RICK WEINBERG, CALIFORNIA BUSINESS JOURNAL
Obstacle after obstacle. That’s what Kevinn Pinkney and Garry Hill-Thomas faced as they pursued their dream of transforming an unsightly abandoned residential block across the street from the University of Nevada in Reno through their development company, Pink Hill Properties.
The two former University of Nevada students and basketball players envisioned a scenario to give back to the college they were so proud to attend and where they helped elevate the basketball program to unprecedented heights when they drove the team into the NCAA Sweet 16 in 2003-04 in what is still considered today one of the greatest and unlikeliest Cinderella rides in sports history.
They are legends on and around campus, and their influence helped convert one of the ugliest, rundown portions of the city into one of the newest, nicest and impactful. Pinkney and Hill-Thomas, who are both from California, are putting the finishing touches on The Towers at Pink Hill, a slick and modern four-story, mixed-use building with 23 units for student housing and 8,000 square feet of commercial space that includes new, urban-inspired cafes and exquisite landscaping.
“The Pink Hill Towers project is a wonderful story,” says Rory Hickok, Deputy Director of Athletics at University of Nevada. “During their time at UNR, Kevinn and Garry helped lay the foundation for Nevada basketball’s success. After their playing days, they both decided to stay in Reno and make it their home. The impact they are now having as successful business professionals benefits both the university community and the Reno community in general. They had a vision and to now see it becoming a reality is pretty inspiring, but not surprising if you knew these two guys. We at the University of Nevada are so proud of these two alums making a difference in their community.”
Before Pinkney and Hill-Thomas rode in on their bulldozers, the neglected, weed-invested block across the street from the university included a boarded up house, a filthy alley and a vacant lot.
“It did not reflect what the university is about,” says Hill-Thomas, who is in the school’s Hall of Fame along with Pinkney.
Initially, Pinkney and Hill-Thomas figured they would simply purchase the rundown parcels and rebuild it to a sparkling new student housing building and restaurants. It wasn’t that easy. Zoning restrictions blocked their plans.
They worked through layers and layers of red tape and after several years the city agreed to rezone the lots to multifamily and mixed use. Renovations began, but soon thereafter, another obstacle evolved: next to the proposed development site was a single-family home, and city regulations stated that Pinkney and Hill-Thomas couldn’t build a multifamily unit next to it.
After endless phone calls, meetings and a lot of “begging and pleading” with city officials, the city was so impressed with the vision, dedication and determination of the former UNR students that it agreed to rezone the entire block.
“The concept is foreign to a city like Reno and everyone is loving it,” Hill-Thomas says. “It’s completely revitalizing the area and the community around it.”
The 23 affordable student housing units range from studios to four bedrooms and will provide housing for 54 students.
Half of the level-one commercial space is occupied by Greater Nevada Credit Union, which is providing financing for the project – another creative stroke of genius by Hill-Thomas and Pinkney, who is playing professional basketball player in Israel yet is monitoring the progress of the Pink Hill development by phone on a regular basis.
The diverse, mixed-use space is filled with sheer vision, style, creativity — and excitement: it features an innovative three-restaurant concept that the partners envisioned from the outset.
“Our goal was to build the social side of life for the students near a major college campus and provide an easily accessible place to get together after games, meet friends, eat and have fun,” Hill-Thomas says.
The Towers at Pink Hill has a café/deli, a pizza shop with a modern do-it-yourself twist like Pieology and a trendy ice cream sandwich shop where the concept is to pick-your-own ingredients.
Ice-cream cookies are assembled to order with customers selecting the type of warm cookies they want and the flavor of ice cream to go between them.
All three venues have a breezy feel to it — “our own modernized version of what a restaurant should be in this digital and social age we live in,” Hill-Thomas says.
Pinkney and Hill-Thomas designed the entire block looking at “the needs and desires of students and their families in mind,” he says. “Our mission with this project was to pioneer the rehabilitation of the street across from the University and to provide modern, affordable housing for students. We wanted to give back to the University, where we got our start, and inspire young athletes to think beyond sports and become entrepreneurs.”
Pink Hill Properties
3710 Grants Dr. Suite J, Reno, NV 89509