Carson and Douglas: both want retail, but is it really economic development?

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As much as he would like to, Carson City Manager John Berkich says he can't interest national retailers in building anywhere except the southern corridor.

Land on the Carson City-Douglas County line has everything developers want: vacant land to build new buildings where they can pick their neighbors and create a shopping destination. It is at the intersection of two major highways and in the middle of a large shopping population -- and near Fuji Park.

Unfortunately for Carson City, most of the land drawing big-name national stores sits in Douglas County even though the stores built there boast a Carson City address.

The shopping benefits residents, but Carson officials argue it pulls away valuable sales tax dollars needed to fund the city's government.

"The first thing we need to understand is 43 cents out of every tax dollar we spend for public services comes from sales taxes," Berkich said. "The next thing is to realize we're running out of a lot of developable land, particularly in the southern corridor. National interest from retailers and restaurants continues to be from Koontz Lane south to Jacks Valley Road.

"Douglas is an ominous threat. Not only are we losing the type of retailers we're trying to attract to this area, but we risk losing our existing retail base."

To keep retailers in Carson City, Berkich last year offered Fuji Park and the Carson City Fairgrounds to Wal-Mart to keep the retail giant from leaving its Carson location for the wide open spaces of northern Douglas County. The effort failed, and resident reaction to the move caused city supervisors to stall development plans of the 14-acre fairgrounds parcel in favor of an advisory vote Nov. 5.

They opted to preserve and improve Fuji Park.

Berkich said slowing the process of preparing the fairgrounds for sale for the vote made it harder to market the property.

But there's still a chance, he said, to capitalize on developer interest in the area before retail stores set up shop a few feet away in Douglas County. With the property sitting between Costco and Wal-Mart, it is in a prime development location for the "lifestyle center" city leaders envision.

Voters are being asked to recognize that their quality of life, the ability to build parks and preserve open spaces, and to have sheriff's deputies come when called hinges on how much revenue the city can generate.

"We have a window of opportunity if we can package our properties right and interrupt the momentum (Douglas properties) currently enjoy," Berkich said.

Douglas County Manager Dan Holler sees the development saga differently. Carson City doesn't have exclusive rights to retail development. Without the population of both counties and the proximity to Lake Tahoe, retailers wouldn't be interested in the region, Holler said.

Holler and Douglas commissioners are working to provide tax dollars to provide services to Douglas County residents, which for too long have relied on tourism dollars from Stateline casinos to support county services.

Retailers are coming to Douglas County, the county isn't seeking them, Holler said. Plans for 325,000 square feet of development next to Wal-Mart are in the works, and the Bureau of Land Management is releasing about 200 acres, which could be commercially developed.

Holler said development in the region, be it in Douglas or Carson City, is good. It stops county residents from sending their tax dollars to Washoe County by offering them more shopping.

For Holler, economic development on the county line means creating more and perhaps better jobs for service-industry workers losing jobs in an economy rough on the Tahoe hospitality industry. At a minimum, Holler said, the county is creating jobs for high school students.


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