Fuji/Fairgrounds to a vote

Carson City supervisors have grudgingly rescued their credibility by agreeing to ask voters in November what should be done with Fuji Park and the fairgrounds.

Their decision Thursday puts an "advisory" vote on the November ballot, so Carson City residents will get a chance to say whether they want to preserve and improve Fuji Park and the fairgrounds. If not, the supervisors can proceed to shop the fairgrounds property to developers.

The Concerned Citizens to Save Fuji Park and the Fairgrounds forced the issue by collecting 3,400 signatures calling for a vote. There remains some debate whether the issue should be on the September primary ballot as a binding vote, a significant difference.

But as far as residents are concerned, they will at least get their say. If they vote to preserve the park and fairgrounds and supervisors choose to go against the popular vote, they would do so at their own peril.

Some supervisors did seem rather defensive last Thursday evening, as if they were doing the Concerned Citizens group a favor. But there has been plenty of frustration on both sides, and it is now time to move toward a resolution.

On one level, it is a simple issue: Should the fairgrounds property be sold for development?

But the underlying issues are complex. City officials are trying to protect Carson's sales-tax base, which will take a serious hit when Wal-Mart moves to Douglas County.

In a nutshell, the argument began in earnest when city officials wooed Costco with a sweetheart deal for public property. That action sent Fuji Park and the fairgrounds on a collision course with development plans for the area around the southern Highway 50 and 395 junction.

Perhaps it was inevitable there would be pressure to sell the city's property in such a high-profile area, but city officials began discussions with Wal-Mart for the Fuji and fairgrounds property before raising a public debate on whether a sale would be appropriate.

That raised the ire of the people who eventually formed the Concerned Citizens group. At the same time, a coalition of Fuji/fairgrounds users, as well as the city's Parks and Recreation Commission, were trying to solve the riddle of what to do if they could no longer use the park and fairgrounds.

So far, no particularly suitable site has surfaced. While the former Stewart Indian School grounds might fill the bill, it belongs to the state, which hasn't seemed inclined to help

In the meantime, city supervisors took steps to preserve Fuji Park. But they were still moving toward development of the fairgrounds property.

While city officials have outlined their vision for an "upscale" shopping center on the property, several questions remain unanswered -- including who might develop such a shopping center and what would go into it. Before Carson City merchants decide which way they'll vote Nov. 5, they surely will want to know whether City Hall is bringing in competition.

Another major unknown is where the fairgrounds might be relocated. Some of the cost could be defrayed through sale of the existing fairgrounds property, but it's not clear yet that there is any advantage to moving.

Finally, there is the question of whether encouraging development at the fairgrounds will offset sales-tax dollars going to Douglas County. Wal-Mart accounts for about $1 million -- 2.5 percent -- of the city's annual $40 million in sales-tax revenue.

Carson City taxable sales have grown this year by better than 8 percent. Projections from City Hall, though, are that sales-tax revenues won't keep pace with the city's budget in coming years.

Again, without knowing what kind of stores are being proposed, it's hard to predict whether they will expand Carson City's retail base or simply divide it.

There is plenty of time between now and November to explore the issues and, perhaps, get some answers so voters will have a clear choice.


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