It has been a rocky 16 years for the Lear Theater, Reno's biggest white elephant. It has received millions in funds, but besides a few special events, it has been closed since 2002. Actually, close to $10 million in funding to become a theatre, with very little to show for it…nothing but a fenced-off half-finished building. 

We did a walk-through with Reno Ward 2 City Councilwoman Naomi Duerr, who is spearheading efforts to reopen the Lear in a format that will make it viable. For now, she says: "It does not have what we call CO, a Certificate of Occupancy. There's no power or water set up right now, so it can't be used in the condition it's in."

There have been many times we've been promised, by one group or another, that the Lear will reopen and relive the glory days it had in the beginning. Before then it was a church, until arts fans opened it as a theatre in 2001. Duerr says that year, “It was awesome. The people loved coming to this. It had good acoustics." But after several changes of direction and board members, it floundered. Duerr says, "The challenges were money, recession and skyrocketing costs."

Amazingly, after millions of dollars, the seating is still from the original church. Where did all that money go? Mainly to things you can't see: structural work. A reinforced foundation, walls put over doors. A new elevator and stairway…a kitchen, bathrooms and dressing rooms. Everything, she says, but the cosmetics. But there’s a long list there too. As Duerr pointed out, "One of the things we would need obviously is to come in with the rigging, the lights, the curtain, the sound system..."

The building, now owned by Artown, has been abandoned for years…even a victim of vandalism. As she told us, "Homeless people have encamped on the property, and unfortunately one of them started a fire, which led to us putting this fence around." She is leading the effort to bring it back. Renovations are really only half-done. More money has to be raised to finish it, but she promises that amount is “definitely under 10 million.”

To those who call the Lear Theater a money pit, Duerr says, “Every building, especially old buildings, you can call money pits. But this is a labor of love, and you can't replace this kind of asset in the City of Reno."

As for who will own it and run it, it could be anyone. In two months the City will ask for proposals from interested groups to take it over. It could even be a home or business, but lack of parking is a problem. Until an option is found, it’s going to take another long wait to finally get to that vision Naomi, and so many locals have…for the once-beautiful building left empty by the river to be open and thriving for good.