Economic planning depends on Carson community working together

A dozen undeveloped lots in Carson City now have a blueprint for electric, gas, phone, sewer and water service.

That may not sound like much but it's one of the keys as Carson City maps out its economic future.

Sierra Pacific Power, Southwest Gas, Nevada Bell, Carson City Utilities and the Northern Nevada Development Authority in recent months took an inventory of infrastructure serving 12 chosen lots earmarked for retail or industrial development.

This information, however, has yet to go into printed information the city passes out to companies thinking about moving to Carson City.

But officials can already refer to the infrastructure inventory when asked about specifics.

"Right now, the city's master plan says the provider of natural gas is Southwest Gas, nothing else," said Kris Holt, NNDA's executive director. "Now we know the distribution lines that serve specific lots. I can say this is not the right place to go."

City Manager John Berkich said knowing how utilities serve various properties points out the strengths and weaknesses of each of the lots.

"Having this information at our fingertips makes you able to answer questions right away," Berkich said. "Time is money. That information is like flour in making a loaf of bread. It's critical."

The inventory infrastructure is the first of three components that will be used to establish an economic strategic plan for Carson City. This planning, together with schools and the business community, will determine how Carson City should best develop its dwindling share of undeveloped land.

By the end of the month, the city expects to receive a report from POLICOM, a

Tampa Bay-based independent research firm that is analyzing the city's economic sectors in great detail. The company will make a formal presentation of its findings Sept. 14-15 to community leaders.

A private-public partnership is paying the $14,000 fee for the POLICOM report. Carson City, Western Nevada Community College and the Northern Nevada Development Authority each chipped in $3,000. Lyon County paid $2,000 but Douglas County and Carson-Tahoe Hospital have yet to pay their shares, Holt said.

From the outset late last year, the city's economic strategic planning has brought together city, business, school, education and utility leaders as often as twice a month to set a course for the city's future.

"It is significant that a cross-section of the community is involved and committed to the process," Berkich said. "That is necessary to make change."

The process has been harmonious so far through the first two phases but may face a hiccup in the third phase. Berkich favors bringing in the Urban Land Institute of Washington, D.C., to combine all the POLICOM and utility data as a strategic plan for future economic development.

If hired, the ULI would take an intensive look at local issues for one week and then present its findings before the private-public group working on the economic strategic plan.

Holt and the local utility companies, however, do not have the same enthusiasm for the institute as the city manager's office. They believe there may be other local alternatives that could provide the same results at possibly a much lower cost.

The cost of the institute's services, Berkich said, is about $100,000.

"I just think we're getting the Urban Land Institute jammed down our throats and I think there are other options," said Holt, the chief recruiter of manufacturers locating in Carson City and surrounding rural counties. "It's a bunch of educators, professors. It's guys who are not practitioners. It doesn't make any sense to me. I think it's very pricey."

Larry McBee, Nevada Bell's area manager for external affairs, also hasn't been convinced that the Urban Land Institute is the best way for the city to spend $100,000.

"We certainly support the whole idea of community planning and very much supported the first two stages of that," McBee said. "The question we have is that so far I'm not convinced that the Urban Land Institute can deliver what the city is looking for."

Berkich, Carson City Supervisor Pete Livermore and developer Tom Metcalf spent a day last week in Boise, Idaho, which went through the Urban Land Institute experience five years ago.

They met with the chief of staff of Boise's mayor and the developer who spearheaded ULI efforts in Boise. Idaho's largest city followed ULI's recommendation and did $70 million in development at the city's airport, Berkich said.

"Their economy is probably one of the strongest in the West," Berkich said.

Metcalf said he noticed that ULI helped Boise's private and public sectors move forward as a team with the same vision.

"They formed it as a wake-up call and blueprint for a plan of action in the future," said Metcalf, president of the Builders Association of Western Nevada. "This got the private and public sector on the same page in the same book in the same chapter."

Berkich also sat in recently on a ULI presentation in Sparks.

"I was very favorably impressed in both cases," said Berkich, who recognizes Holt's apprehension with the Urban Land Institute. "That's why we're approaching this very carefully. Our task has been to learn more about ULI and determine where this will benefit Carson City. We will look at other ULI communities. We want to see if there are substantive changes in these communities.

"I think Carson City continues to be uniquely positioned to be the center of a micropolitan area," Berkich said. "In other words, the game's our's to lose. Time is of the essence."


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