Working for the Mayor and Jacobs Entertainment
On her bio for the abbi agency, co-founder and president, Abbi Whitaker, says she thinks “Reno is the most underestimated place in the United States” and that she’s “proud to be part of the revolution.”
The Stratford-upon-Avon native, from England’s West Midlands, who moved to Fallon when she was 12, and graduated from the Journalism Department at UNR in 2003, opened the downtown pr agency with her sister in 2008. Right now, she is in the middle of development and politics, working both for Mayor Hillary Schieve's re-election campaign and for the Jacobs Entertainment group, which has been buying up property, and bulldozing away motels, leaving empty lots behind and plenty of concerns as to exact plans.
In the interview, Whitaker referred to Jeffrey Jacobs, the CEO of Colorado-based Jacobs Entertainment as Jeff, and admitted she was also in the dark for what the future holds.
“I’ll be honest with you, I don’t know what all of Jeff’s plans are right now. He is a person that is not going to come out with a big splash and talk about ‘I’m going to do all of this, this, this, and this.’ He’s going to make sure that he has his plans in place and that that he knows what he’s doing, and then he’s going to talk about it," she said.
"So, I know a lot of people are like ‘We want to know what’s happening with Jeff Jacobs.’ I can tell you that Jeff Jacobs is doing all of his due diligence, and doing all of his homework so that he’s not going to over promise and under deliver. I can tell you he is a super compassionate man that came into this town and the first thing he asked is, ‘how can I help? What can I give to? How can we make sure that these people are not put on the streets?’ I wouldn’t work for someone that wasn’t like that. I’m a very progressive person in my political beliefs, and in who I am, but I’m also very pragmatic, and I believe that you need to bring all different sides together to solve a problem. And I look at the people I work with as being like that. So, I can’t tell you what Jeff is going to do because I don’t know yet,” she said when asked about why new plans for the downtown area haven’t been unveiled yet.
A Lost Reno?
We also asked her if she was worried that the Reno we know would now be lost amid what some people might call the “glitziness” of Jacobs Entertainment, primarily a gaming casino company, which has also purchased horse tracks and aquariums in other states.
“I don’t think Reno would let that happen,” Whitaker said. “I think Reno has a really loud voice, and I think that Reno is a small community where every voice is heard. And I think that every person that comes in to invest in our neighborhoods knows that, and they pay a lot of attention and a lot of time to make sure they’re listening and hearing that. I think …. Fourth Street needs to be cleaned up. I drive down there every single day and it breaks my heart sometimes, some of the stuff I see, some of the women that I know are being trafficked, some of the people I know need transitional housing, or have mental health issues, we have to clean up those areas of our city, we can’t just pretend that it’s fine the way it is. So, we have someone that’s willing to come in and help us do that and I think that’s a great thing,” she said.
Unlike others, she says she is not a defender of motels.
“Have you ever been inside of them? So, I have to, and the conditions were deplorable, there was no kitchen, there’s asbestos. I mean they were just falling apart. And that’s not the kind of place where we need people living. So, I know that people were like ‘Save the motels, we need to reconstruct them. If you’ve come inside and looked at them, that’s not viable, that’s not going to happen. I work for Jeff Jacobs, who is doing a lot of the development on Fourth Street, and when I look at Jeff and see someone that is giving a million dollars to the Reno Housing Authority, that is building senior housing, that is focused on coming in and putting a lot of money into redeveloping an area, but also really hyper-focused on making sure that those people that were living there are okay, every person, they did not kick any people out of motels, they gave people bridge money to go in to other living situations, they helped helped them transition, that’s how it should be. " (Note: This information was not independently verified by Our Town Reno)
"Is everybody going to be happy? Are people going to be upset about x, y, and z? Of course, but Reno’s evolving, Reno is gentrifying, Reno is cleaning up areas where there (is) a lot of crime, and a lot of poverty, and a lot of drugs, and a lot of sex trafficking. The sex trafficking that goes on in those motels is absolutely disgusting. We need to clean it all out,” she said.
Developers Have a Bad Rap
Whitaker says she feels people often give developers a bad rap.
“They think of developers and think, 'Oh,' and I’m like, well, you should sit down and have a conversation with some of them sometime, and you should see what they give back to this community, and where their hearts are at and everything. It’s interesting how people get painted sometimes without taking the time to get to know them.”
Our Town Reno once spent time with the so-called relocation manager for Jacobs Entertainment, but he spoke to us off the record.
Whitaker acknowledges that there is pressure in what she does, as Reno is currently a “hot ticket” of development, due to its proximity to California and its extremely different tax structure.
“I think it is a big, big job. With growth comes a lot of responsibility - infrastructure, education, and healthcare...a lot of responsibility,” she said.