Carson Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Ronni Hannaman published a thought provoking column headlined “Reimagining Carson City” in last Sunday’s Appeal. The headline was based on a book titled “Reimagining Greenville (South Carolina),” which was recommended by new City Manager Nick Marano as “must” reading for city officials and anyone interested in the future of our capital city.
In her column, my friend Ronni raised several important issues and questions related to downtown development and the future of Carson City. In Greenville, which has a population of about 60,000, redevelopment was financed by the local business community, and not by taxpayers. Of course this is a contrast with what’s happening here after Mayor Bob Crowell and our four elected supervisors approved a 1/8-cent sales tax increase to finance a multi-million-dollar redevelopment project.
“Though not a capital city with a downtown dominated by casinos and government buildings, Greenville is a county seat ... that was caught unaware in the 60s as retail moved out of the city center,” Ronni wrote. That’s exactly what happened here when Carson Mall opened and the downtown retail hub, Murdock’s Department Store, closed in the early 1970s. I remember it well because my late wife, Consuelo, sold women’s clothing at Murdock’s for several years. It was a popular downtown gathering place thanks to its dynamic and visionary owner, Roger Murdock, who invested his own money in his store.
Moving to the present day, as we consider how to revitalize downtown Carson, it’s important to note Greenville reimagined itself through a combination of strong civic leadership, a clear vision of what the city should look like and, Ronni added, “private sector investment and a commitment to do one major project at a time and do it right ...” I think this is a much better, and more defensible, approach than our current Downtown Project with its ill-defined business “corridors.” Our project would be totally financed by local taxpayers, but the businesses that would benefit most wouldn’t have any skin in the game — not a very wise approach to civic development and redevelopment.
As I’ve written before, the Chamber of Commerce — the voice of business in our community — has declined to endorse the Downtown Project for good reasons. As Ronni explained in her column, “Before we (the Chamber) support anything, we insist on knowing fully the issues, the costs, the positives and negatives, and having a seat at the table.” Fair enough. So far, the Downtown Project has been shoved through by a small but vocal group of people with support from a couple of supervisors who have obvious conflicts of interest when it comes to voting on downtown property issues. I won’t name the supervisors in order to protect the guilty ... but they know who they are.
“We continue to maintain strongly that before buildings are built, private funds should be sought ... before taxing citizens and existing businesses,” Ronni concluded, and I endorse her — and the Chamber’s — well-reasoned position on the Downtown Project. I say this to the handful of downtown business people who are pushing this dubious and ill-defined project: Show us the money before we commit millions of our tax dollars to the project. Supervisors who fail to heed this message will be in trouble at the polls in November.
One final point: Ronni urges us to honor our Old West history as we reimagine Carson, and not turn our capital city into a carbon copy of a yuppified Marin County tourist town. Heads in beds, yes, but not at the expense of our rich western heritage. Think about it.
Guy W. Farmer is a 52-year resident of Carson City.