Casino developer seeks Board approval |

Casino developer seeks Board approval

by Scott Neuffer
Published Caption: Special to The R-C

The question of the government’s role in private development was raised more than once at the Minden Town Board on July 19 as members mulled over three separate requests by developers of the C.O.D. Casino off Esmeralda Avenue.

“There is a need in this economic climate for more public-private partnerships,” said project spokesperson Rob Anderson.

Built in 1911, and vacant since 2003, the C.O.D. Garage was one of the oldest operating commercial garages in the United States. In 2008, Douglas County commissioners approved zoning changes and variances for a 14,303-square-foot casino, 3,540-square-foot Schat’s Bakery, and another 4,000 square feet for a proposed museum, day spa and retail area.

Last week, Minden board members voted unanimously, with member Matt Bernard abstaining, to accept from C.O.D. developers the dedication of 5.32 acre-feet of surface water rights, worth $38,603.25, in exchange for a water connection fee credit.

The motion came on the heels of the board’s formal adoption of a water policy that stipulates an exchange ratio of four acre-feet of surface water for every acre-foot of town groundwater needed for a hookup. For transactions greater than 100 acre-feet of surface water, the ratio changes to 3.5 acre-feet of surface water for every acre-foot of ground water.

For new customers of the Minden water system, the water rights portion of the connection fee is priced at 50 percent of the board-determined sales prices to outside users. This provides incentive for development within the town proper.

“It thinks it’s a reasonable request and beneficial to the community as a whole,” Anderson said of the exchange.

Town board members then voted 3-1, with Bernard abstaining and Board Chair John Stephans voting nay, to approve the amortization of the C.O.D.’s remaining connection fee, estimated at $111,380. The three-year payment schedule includes a 25 percent down payment and 2 percent interest rate.

Board Vice Chairman Steve Thaler worried the measure might set a troublesome precedent.

“I struggle with this one. We’re walking on new ground,” he said. “I’m not quite sure we want the Town of Minden to get into the banking business.

“I’m struggling with the idea of becoming prejudicial to one business, one firm, one party, not knowing who else may come in the door.”

Town attorney George Keele said the board could make findings on a case-by-case basis. In this instance, he said, the town could base their decision on the importance of preserving a historic building in the downtown corridor.

“It’s why you were voted to the board. You have the right to exercise discretion,” he said. “You have the right to recognize it’s very difficult for people to obtain financing these days.”

Anderson stressed the importance of economic development. He said the C.O.D. project would employ between 35-50 people, while raising the property’s annual ad valorem tax revenue by $50,000 a year.

“We perceive this town board to be more sensitive to the business climate,” he said.

Casino developer Scott Tate, who has been working with the Hellwinkel family to develop the site, said rejection of the financing option wouldn’t mean death of the project, but could mean more delays. He said water and sewer connection fees are in excess of 15 percent of the entire project.

“It’s not a deal-breaker, but does it move forward this week? Probably not,” he said. “There’s not one gaming development project moving in the state of Nevada, especially in Northern Nevada. I’m here telling you that we’re putting money out of our pocket into this project, but we’re going to need your support.”

Stephans said the town had been supportive of the project, as evidenced by the water rights exchange.

“That was demonstrated in the last 20 minutes,” he said. “My concern is what I perceive down the road. It’s hard to say we’re only going to do this one time.”

Thaler, who supported the measure, said justification had to reach beyond one downtown project.

“In my opinion the reason has to be what we’re doing is best for Minden,” he said. “Minden still supports good business, and we want good business.”

Board members, however, voted unanimously, with Bernard abstaining, to deny the developers’ last request: a proposed cost-share agreement for construction of required streetscape improvements, including underground utilities, electrical extensions, landscaping, and concrete and asphalt work.

Together, the improvements are estimated to cost $198,464. Developers asked that the town reimburse them $99,250.

“You will have a completed, redeveloped core that will benefit the town and people who live here,” Anderson said.

Board member Charlie Condron had reservations about the amount of the allocation.

“I have concerns about budgeting; $99,000 is a huge portion of Minden’s yearly expenditures without taking into consideration the new maintenance building and water project,” he said. “Employee wages have been frozen. This is not an appropriate time to make a large financial decision outside of the budget process.”

Thaler said the applicant should have known the costs of improvements at the time of approval. He shared Condron’s budgetary concerns as well.

“We’d be spending a lot of money we didn’t budget for,” he said.

Anderson argued that the town absorbed 90 percent of improvement costs in a private-public beautification project 10 years ago.

“To ask 100 percent now seems inequitable,” he said.

Board member Roxanne Stangle pointed out that all downtown businesses were invited to participate in the rehabilitation project. At the time, she said, the owner of the C.O.D. property chose not to participate.