Carson City’s political dialogue displayed dueling downtown directions on Wednesday, but also offered detours for brief hype about Hyatt or Ormsby House hotel prospects.
Ward 1 and 3 candidates for the Board of Supervisors ran through a replay, for the most part, of their stances regarding downtown changes. Challengers Lisa Helget and Lori Bagwell seem skeptical or hostile about whether those proposed changes are needed. Incumbents Karen Abowd and John McKenna, supporting the upgrades, at times broadened the conversation to talk of various capital projects aimed at improving various parts of the city.
In Ward 1, it’s Helget challenging Abowd; in Ward 3, Bagwell seeks McKenna’s seat. Early voting is under way and Nov. 4 is election day, the final chance to cast ballots.
A subtext of the Chamber of Commerce Soup’s On luncheon discussion was the chicken-egg question about whether government needs to act to spur private development, which was implicit in some questions from Ronni Hannaman, moderator and the chamber’s executive director. She said previous government projects didn’t pan out, but now firms were opening. “What do you think is driving this surge in business?” she asked at one point.
Abowd and Helget both made bids to steal the limelight. The former did so without naming Hyatt and the latter by referring directly to progress toward a Hyatt hotel chain property and technology-oriented conference center, with some related development, moving a step closer to reality.
“We’re an attractive city; we’re well-placed on the map,” said Helget. “I’ll break the news: the Hyatt’s coming here.” She mentioned it could be a $100 million investment if it becomes reality. After the luncheon, she acknowledged getting access to the knowledge from someone who previously talked about the Hyatt chain’s interest.
Supervisor Jim Shirk earlier said the Hyatt was considering coming, so the breaking news part was another step in the pre-development process had been taken. Hyatt executives earlier visited Carson City but the hotel chain has yet to make any public announcement.
Abowd, meanwhile, said businesses come due to quality of life, decent schools and civic investment because that combination “bodes well for those who want to relocate here.” She indicated without mentioning Hyatt a “letter of intent” has been signed and argued such things happen due to the factors she had cited. Afterward, she said the tech side of the possible project seems to be drawing strong interest.
Bagwell said businesses see “an opportunity for success” here and attributed it to community “synergy.” After the luncheon, she said she was privy to the same information as Helget and Abowd about prospects for the Hyatt chain’s continuing interest.
McKenna said bringing businesses in has been a continual effort, then shifted focus from hotels or retailing to light industry and prospects for more. “I would like to see some more manufacturers,” he said. Afterward, he said the problem with local people talking about businesses coming before the firms announce intentions is any deal could fail in the negotiating stage as a result.
It was McKenna who mentioned the Ormsby House, a hotel under construction for years downtown at Carson and 5th Streets. He said progress toward a possible opening soon is underway there. He said some people advocate the city do something to force the owners to move forward, but he cited respect for property rights.
“If you’re going to have a business-friendly community, it better be business friendly,” he said.
Helget was most critical of the near-term downtown phase of the city’s multi-year improvements, saying it’s for a select group of businesses and costs all taxpayers “while tearing out a perfectly good median” to advance “a bad idea” that can only be stopped by changing makeup of the city’s governing board. Bagwell also expressed her reservations, saying consensus clearly still is needed.
Abowd countered downtown is just part of the effort to upgrade the city, sprucing up all commercial corridors while building a multi-purpose athletic center and an animal shelter, “which is 30 years overdue.” McKenna all along has talked about the various aspects of the plan, particularly the recreation center promised years ago.