Carson City’s downtown could use a big success, and some little ones wouldn’t hurt either | NevadaAppeal.com

Carson City’s downtown could use a big success, and some little ones wouldn’t hurt either

Barry Ginter

I was one of about 40 people from Carson City who went to Las Vegas last week to hear a panel from the Urban Land Institute dissect the city’s downtown plan. It was a long day … we left the Appeal parking lot at 6:30 a.m. for the Reno Airport and returned just after midnight.

You may have read Dave Frank’s story in last Friday’s paper but, if not, the big deal was that Carson City had been chosen as the beneficiary of some of the world’s greatest expertise and experience on redevelopment issues.

Did it live up to the billing? In many ways, yes, but I can’t say I heard a lot that was new or surprising. From what I could tell, only one of the panelists had ever visited Carson City, and while they’d all reviewed written materials and video on our city, a good portion of the time was spent answering their questions about the lay of the city.

So the value of their words was not in the level of detail they could provide on what needed to be done on a specific block or building. It was more about overall guidance.

They repeated the same concepts important to any downtown plan anywhere ” mixing retail with housing to create a 24-7 downtown, making it easy to get around, having a sense of urgency and encouraging enthusiastic participation by the private sector.

But some of what they said still resonates. For example, one of the panelists asked what was the heart of our downtown, and the lack of a solid answer from the Carson City contingent was noticeable.

The panel talked about the need for creating a short-term success story so more and more people will buy into the long-term vision. Who knows what that might be, but several things came to my mind that could easily fit the bill. How about completion of the Ormsby House? Maybe an announcement of a privately funded downtown convention center? No one knows when, or if, those things will happen, but it would be unfortunate if that first big success has to wait until 2009, when the next phase of the bypass is complete.

A big thing would be fantastic, but I also remember one of the panelists emphasizing the importance of the “little things,” which seemed like a great piece of wisdom to me. Small things can make a huge impact.

I remember going through the process of buying a home earlier this year. I must have walked into 50 houses, but in each of them it took only a few minutes to know whether it was a place I could ever envision calling home. They were all about the same size and price, so the differences were often small things like peeling paint, chipped tile, scuff marks on the floor and clutter. They contributed to an overall sense of how much pride the owners had in the place.

It’s really no different on the grand scale of a city. When people drive into Carson City for the first time, their first impressions may be based on any of a number of things, ranging from the traffic to the friendliness of the first person they talk to.

Whenever I talk to someone visiting our city for the first time, I make sure to ask for their impressions and invariably what I learn is that people notice plenty of scuff marks on our floor, plenty of chipped tiles and a lot of clutter. They come in the form of such things as poorly maintained buildings and strip malls, cheap motels and faded signs. But those views never seem to shared without quick mentions of the positive things they see … the capitol, the history, the beauty of the surrounding hills. The word “potential” seems to come up often. Even those who don’t visit can see that potential ” in fact William Hudnut, who chaired the panel last week, said our city could be a jewel of the West.

A home seller can improve a first impression with a little paint and maintenance, but with a city there are thousands of owners who must work together. It won’t be easy, but it’s immeasurably important.

While in Vegas, I carried a video camera and taped some of the city officials who attended, as well as the leader of the panel, William Hudnut. He’s the former mayor of Indianapolis and was instrumental in bringing the Colts to that city. I asked him what he liked best about Carson City, and he gave an interesting answer. You can view the video on our Web site, http://www.nevadaappeal.com. Just click on this column and you’ll see a link to the video.

A few weeks ago, I used this column to catch up with a Carson City native serving in Baghdad. This week, I’m going to catch up with two more.

Amy Bliss, a class of 1999 alumni of Carson High School, is now in Bangkok, Thailand, where she is teaching first grade at an international school. She’s planning a volunteer mission to Cambodia over Christmas break with her friend, Bryan Horgan, another Carson City native.

They could use help in the form of donations for school supplies and other items, she wrote in an e-mail.

“We both feel that this would be a great cause, and we are particularly interested in asking the people of Carson City to help us out because ‘we are Carson City!’ That was meant to be a pun … insert laugh here!”

The two were active in sports and community organizations in Carson City and were in the pages of the Appeal several times. He was Homecoming King in 1999 and she was Winterfest Queen the same year.

How can you help? To begin, just send Amy an e-mail at bliss.amy@gmail.com.

You can learn more about the part of Cambodia they are going to visit by goiong to our Web site, http://www.nevadaappeal.com. Rick Gunn, a former Appeal photographer now on an around-the-world bike trip, wrote dispatches from that part of Cambodia. To find them, simply go to the Web site and type “Rick Gunn” into the search box.

Barry Ginter is editor of the Appeal. You can reach him at 881-1221, or via e-mail at bginter@nevadaappeal.com

Supervisor Robin Williamson gives a tour of the Carson City booth at the Urban Land Institute in Las Vegas.

School Board member Bob Crowell gives his views on the course Carson City should take to revitalize its downtown.

City manager Linda Ritter comments about the assets Carson City holds and the challenges it faces.

William Hudnut, former mayor of Indianapolis and chair of the panel that reviewed Carson City’s downtown plans, comments on Carson City.