MINDEN - Plans for a casino, museum, bakery and spa in the historic C.O.D. Garage received a vote of approval from neighbors of the downtown Minden project who view restoration of the empty block-long building as vital to the community core.
Scott Tate, owner of the Nugget casinos in Fallon and Silver Springs and the Bonanza Casino in Fallon, is partnering with Marlena Hellwinkel and her son Robb to create the C.O.D. Casino on Esmeralda Avenue.
Tate said plans call for a $5 million to $7 million investment in the 95-year-old building which - with all county approvals - could open in 18 months to two years.
In addition to a 14,303 square-foot casino, the project will include a 3,540-square-foot Schat's Bakery, 2,078-square-foot museum and 1,919-square-foot retail/day spa within the existing C.O.D. Garage and Pioneer Auto Parts building.
Tate and project engineer Rob Anderson presented plans to the Minden Town Board on Wednesday. The project will require several special use permits and variances to address change in use, parking requirements and height restrictions for a sign.
"The biggest single variance, as you could predict, is the parking," Anderson said.
The Hellwinkels plan to convert an empty lot at the intersection of Highway 395 and Esmeralda Avenue into parking, which would add 58 spaces. County code requires 176 spaces for a project of that size, and the casino is requesting a reduction to 65 spaces.
Anderson said a downtown Minden parking study conducted by his firm compared existing supply to projected demand.
"The results indicate that there is currently under-utilized parking within the study area," he said. "Should the casino generate a full-parking demand of 176 spaces on an average day when the peak parking demand is the highest, there would still be a surplus of approximately 80 spaces."
Anderson said downtown Minden has available parking whether on or off the street within the boundaries of the study area.
Tate, who lives in Fallon, said he has made a substantial investment and long-term commitment to the project.
"I like the fact that I have other operations which can support a project of this nature," he told the board.
About a dozen people spoke in favor of the project.
"I came to Minden in 1923 aboard the V&T Railroad," said Hap Fisher.
He talked about his family's longtime friendship with Fred "Brick" Hellwinkel, one of the original owners of the C.O.D. Garage
"I'd like to see it go back to the great days, to the period of that time," he said.
Marion Barritt said she was enthusiastic about Schat's Bakery.
"Casinos don't really appeal to me. I won't be spending my money there, but I will at the bakery," she said.
Lori Salvador who lives near Minden Park said the casino site, which has been empty for more than two years, is a distraction in the downtown core.
"The project goes hand-in-hand with our walking tour," she said.
Madge Johnson, a 46-year Minden resident, said "whatever they (the Hellwinkels) decide to do, I fully support them."
Franciso Ordas, a longtime C.O.D. Garage employee, said he looked forward to the day when the building was open again.
"I don't want to see them closed forever," he said. "What else can you do with the building? The building has nostalgia to me. I know every aspect of it."
The town board won't take action on the requests until next month.
"I look forward to hearing more specifics," said town board member Dave Sheets. "A friend told me 15-20 years ago that a community casino was the way to go. They are successful because they are community."
Board member Ray Wilson said the Hellwinkels "had done their homework."
"You are asking for a lot of variances but I don't have a problem with a single one to make this work."
The Hellwinkels announced a similar project two years ago with Dennis Small and Jeff Smeath, but the partnership dissolved.