Amid Rising Rents, Midtown Music Hall Secures A Future

Nov 13, 2015

The Holland Project just completed a successful fundraising campaign to buy its building at 140 Vesta St.
Credit Julia Ritchey

  Reno’s only all-ages music venue, The Holland Project, has just wrapped up a fundraising campaign to buy its building near Midtown. As Reno Public Radio’s Julia Ritchey reports, the money will ensure they can stay put in a part of town that’s experiencing growing pains.

Back before Midtown Reno was one of the trendiest neighborhoods in town, it was a collection of empty buildings looking for startups with a do-it-yourself attitude.

That includes The Holland Project, an arts and music space that started in 2006. Executive Director Britt Curtis got the idea for it after moving back from Seattle, where she saw a thriving youth culture that allowed people of all ages to participate in its arts scene. 

“Traditionally, teens are an underserved population, especially in Reno," she says. "There are tons of activities for kids, way more for adults, but serving the teenage and under-21 population is not on the forefront on everybody’s mind.”

The reason businesses don’t cater to this crowd is because it’s not a very lucrative one. The Holland Project does not serve any alcohol at its shows and a majority of the bands featured are at the beginning of their careers, so they don’t bring in a lot in ticket sales.

It’s for this reason The Holland Project has had to make several moves over the years.

Along the way, the venue has expanded its offerings to include workshops and gallery shows for local artists. And it’s attracted bigger acts like Ty Segall, Future Islands and, just this past August, Sacramento-based Chk Chk Chk.

But its not all about the bands. The concert venue has built a loyal following among young adults who continue to attend shows even after they’re “of age.”

That includes people like Matt McIver, a 27-year-old graphic designer from Gardnerville who started going to their shows as a teen.

“To be able to access a place where you didn’t have to be ID’d, where there was no, necessarily, curfew, or your parents worried about 'Is this a sketchy place where they’re hanging out?'… the Holland Project opened the door for that to say the least,” he says. 

Even with its success, the music hall faced the prospect of yet another rent increase, prompting Curtis and her executive board to launch a campaign to buy their building.

Through private fundraising and partnerships, the space raised 90 percent of its $600,000 goal just this year. The last $60,000 they garnered through hundreds of individual donations, including $1,000 from Reno’s City Council.

“Commercial rents are going up really fast, and if organizations like that can’t hold onto their building, they’ll be priced out of their area, priced out of the urban core and their mission in serving the youth arts community would be in jeopardy.”

That’s city councilwoman Jenny Brekhus, who earmarked the donation for them.

Although Holland Project has been fortunate to keep their space, other businesses have struggled amidst rising property values. One mile north from the music hall, the one-acre Lost City Farms announced this month it would be forced to move after their lease expired.

“I mean it is the age old story, right?”

Britt Curtis again.

“That artists move into spaces because they can afford them and nobody else wants them and landlords are happy at that moment in time to have somebody pay something … and then people start coming to the neighborhood, and they see how cool their buildings actually are. And then all of sudden their value is up and they see dollar signs and it doesn’t make sense to keep those people that made the neighborhood what it was.”

Rebounding property values are a positive trend for the local economy … but can pose challenges to keeping neighborhoods diverse. According to Curtis, many other cities are struggling to keep their all-ages venues afloat amid urban revitalization.

“Even in the last three months, we’ve read about more than 10 closing," says Curtis. "This is happening in New York, this is happening in San Francisco. It’s happening all over the place where these organizations have existed and have been forced to close their doors.”

For Curtis, the best part of seeing the Holland Project’s evolution over the last decade hasn’t just been the headliners but seeing the homegrown talent.

“The sold-out shows are amazing, but for me some of the cooler things have been when there’s just a handful of people in here and it’s a band that you’re seeing perform for the first time… or a local act that has a lot of magic or excitement around them. Um, yeah, I could never pick a favorite, because there’s been so many special ones.”