What’s next for downtown?
September 29, 2013
Over the past few years my coffee buddies and I have frequently asked ourselves the same question: Which local construction project will be finished first, the Ormsby House remodeling or the full length of the Carson City freeway? My good friend, Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Ronni Hannaman, seems to be betting on the Ormsby House. I hope she's right.
Speaking at a Chamber "Soup's On" luncheon last Tuesday, Ms. Hannaman said that Ormsby House owners would like to reopen the hotel by October 2014, as part of Nevada's 150th birthday celebration.
"It will be the true heart of the city when it's finished," she told me. But City Supervisor Brad Bonkowski, a commercial Realtor, cautioned that the hotel will be finished "when it's commercially viable." In other words, don't hold your breath.
Of course, a fully functioning Ormsby House would be a tremendous asset to downtown Carson, and would show that private enterprise can "save" downtown without multimillion-dollar infusions of taxpayer dollars, as was proposed by advocates of the so-called Nugget Project that was soundly defeated at the polls last November on a 2-to-1 vote. That dubious project would have risked millions of taxpayer dollars to build a big new library that we didn't need, didn't want and couldn't afford.
Carson Nugget President Steve Neighbors, a Boise resident, and his well-intentioned but misguided "proud grannies" wanted to spend our tax dollars on an expensive project that would have made them feel good. In the final analysis, however, it was nothing more than yet another feel-good project that we couldn't afford, and the voters rejected it.
Now there's more discussion about saving downtown Carson, and I welcome that discussion. But it seems that some people want to turn downtown Carson into Sausalito, Calif., which isn't going to happen. This is an Old West capital city, not a yuppified city by the Bay. We treasure our colorful Northern Nevada history while Sausalito lives off affluent day-trippers and tourists. So yes, flower baskets are nice, but no, most people don't come here looking for expensive antiques and upscale boutiques.
Commercial Realtor Garrett Lepire, who lives downtown, has written a couple of "If you rebuild it, they will come" columns for the Appeal, arguing that downtown Carson needs an "anchor" store or attraction, which it does. "Revitalization starts with bringing in attractions," he wrote in his most recent column. OK Garrett, you rebuild it and we'll come.
Not long ago the chamber's Hannaman analyzed the downtown conundrum, pointing out that most of the people who go downtown are there to gamble in our casinos, not to shop at high-end specialty stores. She also lamented the lack of consensus on how to save our downtown. City supervisors must be careful about how they spend taxpayer dollars, she wrote, noting that only 18 percent of local property owners actually pay property taxes because so much of the property in our capital city is owned by the state. As an 18-percenter, I want my elected representatives to review project proposals carefully to ensure that we get maximum bang for our bucks.
As Ms. Hannaman wrote, "Carson faces some big issues in the near future and the taxpayers need to remain informed on how money is collected and spent." She's right about that and I congratulate her and the chamber for sponsoring civic forums on how best to spend public funds to improve the quality of life in our town. A small group of elitists think they know what's best for the rest us, but local voters sent them a strong message last fall. They should heed that message.
Guy W. Farmer has been a Carson City resident since 1962.