Carson City Question 1: an in-depth look | NevadaAppeal.com

Carson City Question 1: an in-depth look

Amanda Hammon, Appeal Staff Writer
Charles Steffan looks out over the Fuji Park Arena Friday afternoon.
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Some Carson City residents want to save it. Carson City leaders want to market it for a shopping center.

The Carson City Fairgrounds and Fuji Park sit at the middle of a nearly three-year controversy pitting the city’s commitment to open space and quality of life against a need for retail development. What will happen to the 15-acre site is up to city voters.

On Nov. 5, Carson City Question 1 will ask voters, “While retaining and improving the area known as Fuji Park, should Carson City make available for commercial development City property known as the Carson City Fairgrounds?”

The question itself is controversial. To city leaders, it’s a clear indication of their intent to preserve Fuji Park while creating an opportunity to compete for sales tax dollars crucial to the city’s budget. To those opposed to the question, the wording is a double-edged sword. Vote yes, and the fairgrounds could be sold. Vote no, and could that mean then Fuji Park would no longer be preserved? They argue consideration of selling the fairgrounds is a slap in the face to the the 1996 Quality of Life initiative that promised park improvements and open-space preservation. They ask, if this piece of the park system can be sold, what is next?

In the coming weeks, the Nevada Appeal will examine Carson City’s Question 1. From open space to economics, the issue is one that extends from simply a vote on commercial development of a park property to a question of what course Carson City is charting for its future.

Watch this week for the next segment of this series on Fuji Park, which will deal with why officials say they believe the commercial use of the property makes good economic sense.

Road to ballot started with Costco

By Amanda Hammon, Appeal Staff Writer

When City Manager John Berkich proposed adding South Carson City sagebrush to its redevelopment district, he was careful to point out the city only wanted to commercially develop unused municipal property adjacent to Fuji Park.

The park and fairgrounds were not under consideration for commercial development.

Now Carson City voters are asked to decide if the city can relocate the fairgrounds and exchange the 15 acres into a shopping center.

In the first moments of public debate, those involved in the process feared commercial development of the park and fairgrounds.

“As time marches on, the odds are, great as it is now, that (all of Fuji Park) will go commercial,” said Bob Kennedy in 1999, as a parks and recreation commissioner. “If that’s the case, we ought to take some consideration on where to relocate that 25 acres.”

But city leaders weren’t focused on the property referred to at the time collectively as Fuji Park. To attract retailing giant Costco, supervisors had to jump through a variety of legal hoops for nearly a year to allow them to sell city property without going through a public bid process.

Mayor Ray Masayko never supported the idea of using redevelopment to bring Costco to the capital. He voted against the proposal because he didn’t support the use of redevelopment law used to make the deal legal.

However, Supervisors Robin Williamson, Jon Plank, Pete Livermore and Kay Bennett consistently supported the Costco land sale.

Resigned to the construction of Costco, members of the Fuji Park Users Coalition prepared a plan for improvements to the park and fairgrounds, which they argued could coexist peacefully with a box store neighbor. Carson City supervisors accepted their proposal and in May 2000 made a tentative commitment to spend $740,000 to improve the park and fairgrounds.

Even then, though, Supervisor Kay Bennett was quick to warn the users group the city may have other plans for the property.

“I don’t want to mislead anyone,” Bennett said at the time. “I would personally be misleading you if I said this was all fine and good. There may be other opportunities for that land. If there’s a new place to relocate it I’m open to that.”

Through most of 2000, city leaders focused on ironing out kinks in the Costco deal. The store opened in November 2000.

In the midst of the city’s negotiations with Costco, Wal-Mart officials formally asked to be allowed to bid on the the vacant property. But supervisors were committed to Costco.

Unable to expand at their South Carson Street location, Wal-Mart in February 2001 purchased 13 acres south of Fuji Park and announced construction of a super center on the site. City officials had been working on development plans for the park and fairgrounds, one of which included relocating Clear Creek to open more of the park and fairgrounds property for commercial development.

In March 2001, in a desperate attempt to keep the nation’s largest retailer from leaving for Douglas County, the city manager offered the fairgrounds and Fuji Park as a potential development site for Wal-Mart. City officials discussed putting Wal-Mart through a process similar to that used to draw Costco to Carson — putting the property in the city’s redevelopment district, lower construction costs, a speedy trip through the city’s planning process — in attempts to keep hold of the estimated $1 million in sales taxes the store brought to Carson.

The news stunned some city residents, who said while they accepted the sale of vacant land for commercial development, it never occurred to them the park and fairgrounds could be sold. They formed a group called Concerned Citizens To Save Fuji Park and the Fairgrounds and began petitioning city officials not to relocate or sell the park property.

Wal-Mart turned down the site, but city officials continued to prepare for commercial development and relocation of the park and fairgrounds. The Carson City Parks and Recreation Commission began looking at relocation sites for the fairgrounds. They favored the state’s Stewart Indian School, but state officials refused to allow the city to consider the site. Parks commissioners reviewed three sites in East Carson City. Ultimately, parks commissioners rejected all the sites in May 2001.

In August 2001, city supervisors made their first definitive decision in what had been speculation over the property’s future. In the presence of an audience of more than 100, they agreed to preserve Fuji Park while splitting from it the fairgrounds for commercial development. Supervisor Richard Staub voted against the proposal, arguing the issue warranted a public vote.

Through summer 2001, the Concerned Citizens protested in front of City Hall and walked the city’s streets collecting signatures for an initiative petition asking the city to preserve forever the park and fairgrounds. City officials argued the petition interfered with the administrative function of government to manage property.

In December 2001, supervisors asked city officials to find a suitable relocation site for the fairgrounds and agreed to spend around $2 million on improvements to Fuji Park.

As city officials worked to find a relocation site for the fairgrounds and to better define the potential development slated for the property, supervisors in January agreed to discuss the, 3,400-signature petition requesting protection of the park and fairgrounds.

Carson Chief Deputy District Attorney Mark Forsberg argued the petition was unconstitutional because it asked for an administrative change not allowed under the state law under which the petition was filed. Carson District Judge Michael Griffin ordered the city to place the issue on the ballot. The city appealed the decision to the Nevada Supreme Court. In July, the Supreme Court sided with city officials and ordered the Concerned Citizen’s initiative question off the ballot.

In May, city supervisors conceded the state would not let them use the Stewart site and chose around 300 acres of Bureau of Land Management property near the landfill on Flint Drive as a proposed relocation site, a site rejected the year before by parks commissioners.

For most of 2002, supervisors ordered all development plans in relation to the fairgrounds put on hold. While the advisory vote is not binding, supervisors promised in January to abide by the outcome of the vote.

Community, county commissioners built fairgrounds

By Amanda Hammon, Appeal Staff Writer

Ted Imus remembers the day in 1965 he got a $20,000 check in the mail from Basil Woon. It had just his name on it.

“There was nothing (keeping) me from depositing it in my bank account,” said Imus — except knowing that Woon intended the money be used to build a recreation area somewhere in Ormsby County dedicated to his late wife, Fuji.

Ormsby commissioners had the money for a park, and they had the perfect site. South of town, on the Douglas County border, sat the Ormsby County Poor Farm. Since the 1860s, the site had been used as a home for the poor and elderly indigent.

In 1965, county commissioners were transferring the six or so of the poor farm’s elderly residents into nursing homes, said Bill Goni, who was chairman of the Ormsby County commission at the time, before county and city governments were combined.

“As we were closing it down, we thought it would be a wonderful spot for a park,” Goni said. “It gave people on the south end of town a chance for a park.”

While $20,000 was a significant amount of money, it wasn’t enough for county officials to hire a contractor to build the park at the site of the poor farm. So commissioners Goni, Imus and Ellis Folson helped rally community support.

Commissioners formed the Fuji Park Committee to head the project and oversee construction. Charles Steffan, of Carson City, and Ray Walmsley, of Dayton, both served as 4-H leaders and were original members of that committee. Both worked for Savage Construction and, in their off hours, took the company’s equipment to grade both the Fuji Park site and a site on the south side of Clear Creek for a temporary working area for 4-H members.

A lot of time was spent clearing land, hammering nails and clearing brush by hand, Steffan and Walmsley said. There was no distinction between a park and fairgrounds. It was just called Fuji Park.

“I’ve got a lot of memories in that place, and they’ve all been good,” Steffan said. “I’m really concerned about keeping that Fuji Park. There’s been a lot of work put into making that.”

The July 4, 1966, edition of the Nevada Appeal boasted a banner headline noting, “Fuji Park Plan Announced; Cooperative Area Project.”

The Sertoma Club, led by Bill Bostwick, planned to add an arena, corrals, chutes, grandstand, horse stalls and landscaping. The rodeo installation, the article continued, “is only a part of the overall Fuji Park development.” While the park was being built on 15 acres, the entire park and rodeo grounds project would sit on 42 acres.

The ambitious 1966 plan for the park featured a children’s zoo and exhibit center. Like multiple plans for the park in its 37-year history, those plans eventually fell by the wayside.

The park was dedicated in November 1965. The fairgrounds was dedicated the following year.

Goni said he spent most of his spare time for months digging post holes for the arena alongside 15 to 20 volunteers from a variety of county service clubs.

“We knew we would accomplish it,” Goni said. “Any of that construction work is hard, but we were young and full of energy.”

Now as Goni watches city leaders plan for development in the city’s southern edge, he hopes they “see the light and keep it a park.”

“We wouldn’t have dreamed of anything like this,” Goni said. “(Local governments) are always short of money, but we never would think we would sell a park.

“We have enough commercial areas. We don’t have to turn our park areas to (shopping centers.) “

DID YOU KNOW?

The fairgrounds is home to a small cemetery occupied by two Civil War veterans who died at the Ormsby County Poor Farm.

John Thoroughman was born in Ohio in 1838. He served during the Civil War in Nevada and Utah. He lived at the poor farm off and on from 1907 until his death Dec. 19, 1909. He shares a small plot on the south edge of the fairgrounds with James Johnson, who was also born in Ohio, but in 1836.

Johnson moved to Carson City around 1870 and worked on various ranches in the area. He lived at the poor farm intermittently from March 1909 until his death April 13, 1910. Both men paid $10 a month to live at the farm.

CARSON CITY FAIRGROUND AND FUJI PARK TIME LINE

1886: Carson City buys the site known as Fuji Park and the future Costco site from George and Ellen Bath for $2,000 and another small parcel from J.J. Abraham for $175 in gold.

1860s-1963: Home to the Ormsby County Poor Farm.

1963: Ormsby County gives the county’s 4-H Council 10 acres adjacent to the Poor Farm to develop rodeo grounds.

1965: Picnic area known as Fuji Park constructed with money left to the city by Basil Woon in honor of his late wife, Fuji.

1966: Ormsby County 4-H Council returns 10 acres to the county for “a place for horse shows, rodeo events, livestock shows and related events” that “would be available for 4-H club activities.” County officials and community members construct the rodeo arena with money from Basil Woon.

1984: Plans for an equestrian center were explored, but failed.

1986: The park bond issue passes, giving the parks department $3.8 million to improve parks. Voters voted on improvements to “Fuji Park” including the Exhibit Hall, 40-stall barn and restrooms.

1990: Master plan for fairgrounds completed. Exhibit Hall with bathrooms and kitchen were completed as well as a bathroom facility near the rodeo grounds.

1996: All future plans for the park were put on hold because of the Bar-One proposal to build an events center. Supervisors accepted a proposal from Bar-One to lease portions of the fairgrounds for development of the fairgrounds into a 10,000 seat arena/events center. The project was estimated at $20 million.

1998: Carson City quashes Bar-One plans because at the last moment, developers added gaming to the proposal.

1999: Costco announces interest in 16 acres of fairground overflow parking.

2000: City puts overflow parking into the city’s redevelopment district and sells the property to Costco promising to make improvements to Fuji Park and the city’s fairgrounds.

2001: Development pressure on park and fairgrounds increases. Property offered to Wal-Mart. Citizen group forms to stop area’s commercial development. Parks commissioners reject study of three potential relocation sites. Citizen group forms after Wal-Mart announcement, circulates petition to save and improve park and fairgrounds. City decides to preserve and improve Fuji Park while preparing the fairgrounds for sale.

2002: Presented with a 3,400-signature petition, supervisors stall fairgrounds development plans. They agree to an advisory question, but the group circulating the petition asks state courts to put their question on the ballot. A district court judge agreed, yet the Nevada Supreme Court ruled the petition interfered with the city’s ability to manage its property and ordered the initiative question removed from the November ballot.