New City Center pitch may increase sales tax, drop parking garage idea

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The footprint and the financials of the controversial City Center project may be about to change - again.

Under the latest iteration, the project would be paid for through a quarter-cent sales tax increase and would no longer include a parking garage.

When Carson City supervisors meet Thursday, they're scheduled to consider directing the city manager to prepare a ballot question asking for the sales tax hike. The city would then put the matter to voters to approve or reject in November.

"We decided to take the garage out of the equation at this time, and if it's needed in the future, we can see where it goes from there," City Manager Larry Werner said Thursday. "With the library and plaza, it won't be necessary."

Werner said there still would be plenty of surface parking surrounding the plaza and on the site where the garage would have been built.

Nugget president Steve Neighbors, who first proposed a nearly $90 million public-private partnership project, was not available for comment Thursday afternoon, when the agenda for Thursday's board meeting was published.

That sprawling first proposal was subsequently scaled back to less than $50 million, to include a Knowledge + Discovery Center (library) as its anchor, along with a plaza, a parking garage and related infrastructure. The board approved a plan using $23.8 million from city redevelopment and landfill fees and $21.5 million in private funding, including land donations and financial investments from the Hop and Mae Adams Foundation, named for the late owners of the Nugget.

In the latest plan, the garage is omitted and the reduced $28 million cost would be paid for with the new sales tax revenue, projected to bring in about $1.9 million per year.

At Thursday's meeting, the board will consider directing Werner to word a ballot proposal for the board to consider at its June 7 meeting to finance the design, development, construction and acquisition of a new library and public plaza on property to be donated to the city by the Mae B. and Hop Adams Trust and to increase the city sales tax rate to pay for it. The supervisors' agenda packet makes no mention of a parking garage - an element that skeptics and opponents of the project have called unnecessary.

Dennis Johnson, a candidate for city supervisor and one of the petitioners who have been gathering signatures to get the project placed on the November ballot, said he is suspicious about the city's wording change in the packet from the traditional "City Center Project" to simply a reference to the library and plaza. Johnson is concerned that that change in terminology could invalidate the wording of the petition, which he said has garnered more than the required 3,000 signatures with six weeks to go before the deadline.

"The devil is in the details, and this is probably a good first step, but it's like trying to nail Jell-O to the wall," Johnson said. "This definition change could be an attempt to deceive the public."

Library Director Sara Jones could not be reached for comment Thursday on the new revisions.

Mayor Bob Crowell said he needs a little more time to consider the latest changes before commenting.

If supervisors vote Thursday to direct Werner to put together a ballot question for the June 7 board meeting, it would include an explanation of the proposition and a fiscal note, which, if approved, would have to be submitted to Clerk-Recorder Alan Glover by July 16. He would then form ballot committees to write the arguments for and against the question. It would have to be ready for printing by Aug. 13.

Meanwhile, the project's skeptics and opponents say they'll continue gathering signatures for the petition, which states, "No public funding shall be used for the proposed Carson City Center Project ... without a majority vote of the people approving such funding."


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