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City: Downtown businesses projects need tax money

Dave Frank
Appeal Staff Writer

The owner seemed right. It looked like a good idea. Who would have known?

“We gave some incentive money,” said Joe McCarthy, city economic development manager. “I mean, you can’t predict.”

In 1994, the city gave $23,090 to the Downtowner Motor Inn. It switched owners, became notorious and was shut down by the sheriff in 2005. Now, next to the Children’s Museum of Northern Nevada, it sits vacant.

“It deteriorated badly,” McCarthy said.

But since the city started a push to redevelop downtown in 1986, officials say they’ve helped clean up the facades and fill most of the buildings. And it took just $1.5 million to get businesses to invest about $100 million, they said.

McCarthy described the funding as a tool – “that little increment to jump start a project that otherwise wouldn’t be done because it doesn’t make economic sense.”

The downtown looked bad and the city didn’t have a choice, said Robin Williamson, head of the board of supervisors’ redevelopment authority. “We said it wasn’t healthy for our downtown or community.”

The city started using part of the revenue from downtown business property taxes, about $500,000 a year, to give to businesses in that area who are remodeling or making improvements. It also spends about $50,000 on downtown events each year, such as the annual Ghost Walk.

Adele’s on North Carson Street got $100,000 in 2004 to renovate its 1864 building, a $685,000 project that wouldn’t have happened without the city’s money, said owner Charlie Abowd. The restaurant put down a new foundation and installed new wiring and plumbing.

Abowd said he needed the money because the city required him to make other improvements, like accommodations for disabled people. Without those improvements, those customers would have a “humiliating and degrading” experience at his restaurant.

City officials say the way the buildings look is what’s most important, so they’re also pushing to make it easier for more business to be able to house different kinds of business or switch between them – whether it is retail, restaurant or apartments.

According to a city brochure, these kind of buildings will make a “cozy, small town, walkable feeling” if the business meet design, material, lighting and landscaping standards. For instance, lighting must accent architecture, encourage night activity, prevent light pollution and illuminate walkways.

If the buildings are up to code, then entrepreneurs can decide what should go inside with less interference from the city. McCarthy said the market decides best and surrounding areas benefit from how the buildings look.

“We call it an area-wide benefit, that’s a bureaucratic term,” McCarthy said. “It reaches out to all the other properties around them adds value to them, too.”

Officials acknowledge that the downtown they want can’t be completed until Highway 395 stops running through the area. They also said, however, that they might not have to wait until the entire freeway is done to cut Carson Street from four to two lanes. The state transportation department might let them take over when the next phase is done in 2009, which would reach Fairview Drive.

“We control our own street and then we control our own destiny,” McCarthy said.

Today

Concerts in the Park

Enjoy the lawns of the Legislature and Capitol grounds as you listen to Jazz in the park. Free concert from 5-7:30 p.m. Bring chairs, blankets and refreshments. Call 687-7410.

Aug. 10

Fridays @ 3rd Street Dance Party

Bad Intent Band (Great Rock & Roll) 7-11 p.m. Mom & Pops Diner, 224 S. Carson St. 884-4411.

Aug. 12

Concerts in the Park

Enjoy the lawns of the Legislature and Capitol grounds as you listen to 5 Alarm. Free concert from 5-7:30 p.m. Bring chairs, blankets and refreshments. Call 687-7410.

Aug. 24

Fridays @ 3rd Street Dance Party

Nitercry Band (Seven piece blues band) 7-11 p.m. Mom & Pops Diner, 224 S. Carson St. 884-4411.

Aug. 31

Fridays @ 3rd Street Dance Party

Three local blues bands 7-11 p.m. Mom & Pops Diner, 224 S. Carson St. 884-4411.

• Contact reporter Dave Frank at dfrank@nevadaappeal.com or 881-1212.