Outside the office of City Manager Nick Marano in Carson City’s downtown executive suite is a sign bearing this message: “War Room.”
Staff says it pre-dates the retired Marine Corps colonel’s assumption last June of the city’s chief executive role, but Marano certainly is no stranger to war zones. He served in the dangerous Middle East, among other spots, during his military career. So it isn’t talk of war when he assesses city progress in terms of what he’s doing with a city sales tax hike to improve downtown and other things, though some of it isn’t popular with everyone.
Popularity and politics aside, Marano in an interview listed things done since he got here, and he focused on what remains in both the near-term and on the more hazy and distant horizon. What’s done appears significant, but what’s coming may well prove more so if he’s to tackle what he calls both challenges and opportunities. He said when the I-580 bypass freeway is done, perhaps by 2017, more goes on the city’s plate.
“I think South Carson becomes extremely important,” the city manager said in a wide-ranging interview covering not only the future, but also the gestation period of the Marano city management era. It was nine months ago Marano came here and moved quickly to make changes while building on tools the Board of Supervisors previously provided.
The first tool he mentioned is the one-eighth of a penny sales tax boost, which means about $1 million annually more in sales tax revenue underpinning planned business corridor changes affecting downtown, both South and North Carson Street, and East William Street. It also helps with construction of a multi-purpose athletic center (MAC) on Russell Way and a new city animal shelter on Airport Road.
Marano pointed out the ground breaking for the MAC occurred the same day as this interview; another ground breaking for the shelter is anticipated this month. But he indicated his most significant accomplishment to go with downtown Carson Street design, which is under way now, is adding a 3rd Street community plaza to the mix.
“Of all those, I think the public/private (plaza) partnership is a great project for the community,” he said. He said the planned Robert McFadden Plaza on a closed West 3rd between Carson and Curry streets will provide a family-friendly spot during the day, an event venue for everyone at other times, including a hot spot for young singles on Friday nights. It includes city, redevelopment and donated private sector financing.
He wasn’t minimizing the corridor improvements or other projects with that comment, just highlighting one aspect, and he then moved on to his concern about what happens when the bypass freeway is done and South Carson Street faces impact. Downtown and North Carson have already faced traffic decreases since the freeway reached Fairview Drive. Marano looked ahead to what it might mean for city coffers.
“That is the heart of the tax base,” said Marano. South Carson Street’s commercial corridor includes such things as auto dealers, the Fandango casino and theater complex, Bodines casino, Costco, shopping centers with retailers like Kohl’s, JC Penny, Burlington Coat Factory, Big Lots, Big 5, and various restaurants or other firms. Marano said the impact of the freeway’s completion is clear and is going to be a challenge.
“But it’s also an opportunity and, I think, long term it’s a phenomenal opportunity,” he said. He put that in the context of a metroplex commercial/tourist region ranging from South Lake Tahoe down to Douglas County, Carson City, and north to Reno-Sparks in Washoe County. He said the city has tools available, including perhaps the redevelopment district, but didn’t go into possible South Carson Street projects at this early stage.
He also mused about future success of a Nevada fair at Fuji Park and what to do if it outgrows the spot near Bodines and Costco, but that stays on his future opportunities list. For now, he said, growth again represents both a challenge and an opportunity.
Other matters were discussed in looking back at the nine months in which Marano’s stewardship has moved from Marano-era gestation to a revamped Carson City aborning with him at the helm, among them the animal services operation that includes but isn’t limited to the shelter, and a change in handling building services.
“When I first got here, I did a thorough assessment,” he said, and those were two issues he determined needed attention. The aging animal shelter was just part of the animal services problem but fixing it, in his recounting, proved a bit of good fortune. He said he had a “chance meeting with the (Nevada) humane society,” which prompted him to look at how things are handled in Washoe County.
There the society headed by Kevin Ryan oversees animals but Washoe County still runs enforcement. Humane society officials, however, “expressed a desire to take it all over” in Carson City. “We benefited immediately,” Marano said. He cited Ryan’s statistics showing Carson City has a 97 percent live release rate for small animals in implementing a “no kill” policy.
As for building services, contracting with Charles Abbott Associates, Inc., proved a plus, from Marano’s perspective. He said codes enforcement and customer service are both important and outsourcing the task benefits the city.
“It was a good fit,” Marano said. “They will ramp up or ramp down based on demand.” He said the city retains oversight, so both code enforcement and customer service result for those in business seeking permits, counsel and related help are handled well. Marano said the pact is “totally funded by permit fees” and due to the firm’s ramp up or down flexibility, city government is leaner.
Going forward, Marano said, he views it as crucial Carson City meet challenges “to remain competitive, to remain a desirable location.” To that end, he cited the already-existing Adams Hub business incubator and its orientation toward development technological businesses, as well as city government’s work in conjunction with the Northern Nevada Development Authority (NNDA).
He cited the NNDA pact with city government to help existing and lure new industry, as well as the potential Capitol Mall private sector project near the Carson Nugget casino, as aspects of bolstering the city’s competitive stance. The NNDA involvement there is via Rob Hooper, NNDA executive director, who’s also a managing partner of the proposed project development firm. A tech conference center/hotel combination is part of that plan.
Marano said the existing employment base in government and manufacturing, with the latter growing, can combine with related growth from a smaller base in technology to provide three pillars to propel the city’s 21st century economy. Such a three-pillar approach coupled with vibrant outdoor recreation and urban upgrades will retain current residents, spur good jobs and attract new people.
“That lends itself to activities the Millennials enjoy,” he said.
When it comes to enjoyment, Marano isn’t just thinking of others. He and his wife, Tami, love the outdoor opportunities here, as well as the lifestyle, and in recent months their son Nick has moved here after graduating from USC.
Tami is a registered nurse with Sierra Surgical and the younger Nick is a supervisor at the new Carson Nugget Alatte Coffee & Wine Bar. The Maranos also have a daughter, Kristie, studying at the University of Mississippi.