Museum would honor the Chinese railroad workers

A proposed $50 million museum unveiled Friday could draw a half-million visitors annually to Carson City, according to designers involved with the project.

The Chinese Workers Museum of America is expected to make Carson City a center for scholars and historians in the next five years and spur a 150-acre commercial and residential development.

The museum would be near the proposed Virginia & Truckee Railway depot off Highway 50 East. The museum steering committee plans to raise funds from private donations here and abroad.

Co-directors Art Hannafin and Khan Tung said the 250,000-square-foot museum complex will be a tribute to the workers who helped build the V&T Railroad and settle the West, but who were then excluded from the American dream.

Plans released Friday show a six-story conical building with a silver spiral and windows that reflect gold. It will be flanked by two six-story buildings that resemble Chinese gateways, which are ancient Chinese fortifications around cities, such as the Forbidden City.

Hannafin, architect and owner of Hannafin Design Associates, said the design evokes the dream of the 18th century Chinese immigrants - that of a gold mountain promising prosperity. What it turned out to be for them was a dream denied, or "you can do the laundry but not mine for gold."

Tung, Hannafin Design senior associate, said the glass structure contains a building that spirals up to the point of the cone. Visitors who climb to the top will be able to look out over the museum and the Eagle Valley.

"The structure will convey a hollow feeling - like their dreams," he said. "But the legacy they left behind was the fuel for a prospering capital city."

The museum experience will begin with a look into the life of a "coolie," which means bitter labor. Tung, who is Chinese, said the newly appointed museum interim executive director, James Earl, will mobilize the fundraising.

Originally planned for Reno along the Truckee River, museum directors decided to look elsewhere for land after they saw the cost: about $6 million. The museum steering committee - which includes state Sen. Bill Raggio, R-Reno; Gov. Kenny Guinn and Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev. - decided the museum might be better suited for public land. The committee has the option of seeking a recreation and public purpose lease agreement with the Bureau of Land Management, or acquiring the parcel through a state lands bill. The latter option would be more time consuming because it would have to be granted through Congress.

The committee would like to put the museum on BLM land north of Brunswick Canyon Road and the Carson River, east of Deer Run Road. The designers propose that Morgan Mill Road extend to the museum.

Tung said artifacts of the early Chinese Americans are found around the country and this museum could be a consolidation place for all of them. It could also be the place for international academic exchange.

"We are looking at not just a museum, but a center for archives and (the preservation of artifacts)," he said. "There are thousands of historic sites from the Cascade Range to the Sierra Nevada, and the governments and universities don't have the ability to catalog them. We want to provide a facility for state, regional and international universities to do that."

One of the gateway buildings would be used for preserving artifacts and archives, and the other for administration and changing exhibits, which Tung said will be the major revenue source. The museum package will draw Chinese Americans who want to get in touch with their heritage, or the Chinese tourist looking for familiarity in a foreign country, he said.

"If everything goes the way we would like it to go, we'll be open in four to five years," Hannafin said. "We may be a year behind the V&T."

The $40 million V&T Railway is expected to carry tourists between Virginia City and Carson City by 2010. It's funded by private and public monies, including an eighth-cent sales tax increase starting next month in Carson City. A state commission is in charge of the reconstruction and has so far completed 1.8 miles of track in Gold Hill.

"Once it's pretty clear that the railroad and museum are moving forward, then this would impel the development of the Hettrick property," Hannafin said. "You will be able to define the tangible value of the residential, hotel and retail development."

Destination Nevada at Carson City

The Destination Nevada development off Highway 50 East and Drako Way is planned to be slightly longer than Victorian Square in Sparks. A casino resort is a planned anchor and the circular center piece is a retail/office structure that is 1,500 feet in diameter and has underground parking, according to conceptual plans released Friday by Hannafin Design, which is the architect for the developer.

"It's going to bring a lot of visitors to town who are going to stay," Hannafin said. "Right now they are not staying. You're going to find that this is a destination, which is way it's named that."

Andy Hettrick, RIDL Ltd. project manager for Destination Nevada, said the company expects to close escrow Oct. 9. The Carson City developer is purchasing eight parcels, totaling about 118 acres, from John Serpa.

The vacant lots have no improvements and together have an assessed value of about $6,200, according to city records.

The Hettrick family owns 33 acres, broken into six parcels, between the highway and Astro Drive. Together, this land will make Destination Nevada. Developed at $250-$300 a square foot, the project could cost up to $900 million.

"It's a multi-use lifestyle destination center," Hettrick said Friday. "It's a place where a tourist or resident (the project proposes condo towers) can possibly work and play in the same location. You can get groceries, get dinner, go catch the (V&T) train, go to the museum, or go see a movie."

The proposal sounds like a Stations Casino development at Green Valley Ranch, in Henderson, but Hettrick said what RIDL builds will match Carson City.

"It's a significant development for Carson City," he said. "The train is happening, there is a significant number of people committed to the train. There is a good mixture of people behind the museum. We're committed to seeing this out.

"If we can pull this off, this will be something Northern Nevada can brag about."

He's been talking to other developers for about a year, but will not drop names, and so far isn't disclosing any commitments. RIDL could build out all 150 acres itself, partner with other developers, or sell the land in pieces.

"Our goal is not to walk away from it," he said. "We'd like to stay involved and see it through to the vision our family shares."

Hettrick, 28, is managing the project with his father, state Assemblyman Lynn Hettrick, R-Gardnerville. Hettrick said he and his father are "very committed" to this project which is expected to build out over 10 years.

For information, contact Hettrick at 720-1935.

-- Contact reporter Becky Bosshart at or 881-1212.


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