Experts praise Carson City’s downtown plan | NevadaAppeal.com

Experts praise Carson City’s downtown plan

Dave Frank
Appeal Staff Writer

LAS VEGAS – Carson City has solid plans for its downtown and now needs to focus on how to bring people to the area and keep them there, a panel of planning experts told city officials.

The seven-member panel organized by the world’s largest planning organization, the Urban Land Institute, reviewed Carson City’s downtown plans Thursday in Las Vegas, telling representatives the city needs a successful project soon to impress residents with what it can do.

The city formed its plans for downtown from meetings with residents in 2005 and 2006. The focus of the plan is more people working, living, shopping and having fun downtown.

The city is in a beautiful area and can be a “jewel,” said panel chairman and former congressman Bill Hudnut.

“I think you’re on the cusp of great things here,” he said, “but it’s going to take all of you.”

Hudnut and Richard Reinhard, a panel member and Washington, D.C., economic developer, both said everyone they talked to was excited about the downtown, but were a little concerned whether business owners downtown were also excited.

“If you’ve got 60 or 70 people here and only one of them is a property owner, you’ve got a problem,” Reinhard said.

Though he supported the plan, he also criticized the city the most. Officials are excited, he said, but lack a sense of urgency.

The freeway is supposed to hit Fairview Drive in 2009 and the city isn’t prepared to act by then, he said.

But city officials have said they are ready and have plans to slow traffic downtown through other improvements, such as widening parallel Roop Street.

After traffic is rerouted, they can start their plans.

This will be done by having a mix of residential and business in the same buildings, adding key buildings, such as a library and convention center and by attracting more art and retail along with improving the look by doing things like widening sidewalks and adding open plazas.

Officials also said they also encouraged buildings with a mix of retail and residential through a new city code, which cuts down on the regulation of doing that.

The city has also spent $2.5 million since 1992 to help downtown businesses, such as Adele’s, renovate their buildings.

Connect the city

If Carson City is going to have a great downtown, it needs to find a better way of getting people, especially young people, to the area, the panel said.

The city and Western Nevada College need to work together to get students to the “funky” kind of places where they will want to get together, said panel member Margaret Sowell.

Though city Supervisor Robin Williamson said Carson does have an “eclectic lumpiness” to it, Shelly Aldean, another supervisor, acknowledged that the city’s public transportation shuttle system, Jump Around Carson, is “fledgling.”

The college is concentrating on its new four-year programs and residential housing, said college president Carol Lucey, and wouldn’t be able to build housing downtown for a while.

The city also should work with neighboring counties to coordinate a regional transportation system, especially since half of the workers in Carson don’t live there.

“But I suspect you’ve talked about that until you’re blue in the face,” said Kurt Culbertston, panel member and chairman of a Colorado planning firm.

Tear down the mall

The city could show residents it’s serious about development with a major project like a large mixed-use development on the Carson Mall site, the panel said.

After Joe McCarthy, city redevelopment manager, said the mall would be the “gateway” to downtown from the south, the panel said the 12-acre land would be better as an “urban village” with shopping and housing. The owner of the property would probably make more money on the land that way, too.

The city needs more land, said Richard Perlmutter, a panel member and head of a Maryland development firm, and this could be a good place to start a new impressive development.

“You don’t want to put all your eggs in one basket,” he said, “but you want to have a big enough basket to get people’s attention.”

While a city should use eminent domain rarely, Hudnut said, it’s an important arrow in the city’s quiver.

Also, the city also could have more money to work with if it stops providing services, like the shuttle running to other counties, the panel said.

“Somehow, you all strike me as really nice people and I need you to be not so nice,” said Jim Cloar, a panel member and president of a St. Louis redevelopment group.

Align the stars

The city is now finished with its planning stage and ready to start moving on plans, Carson officials said.

The panel’s advice was reaffirming, said McCarthy, and the review was something the city needed before it could move on.

He said the city will now concentrate on projects such as the historic St. Charles Hotel, a downtown library and a hotel and convention center at the Carson Nugget.

The city hopes to “align the stars” and make a great downtown, said city redevelopment official Tammy Westergard.

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

What city officials say

“The thing that really caught my eye was that point they made about the private sector. Really nothing is going to happen unless those guys get involved.”

– Robb Fellows, senior project manager for Carson City

“Nothing surprised me, it just reaffirmed what this community told us that they want the downtown to be the heartbeat of the city. A panel of six national experts told us we’re doing exactly the right thing.”

– Joe McCarthy, manager, Carson City Office of Business Development

“I have a real sense of hope that this can all become a reality because this community is really taking ownership of it.”

– Tammy Westergard, deputy manager, Carson City Office of Business Development

“The important thing is the sense of urgency, that even though this is going to be years in the making, it requires action now. We need to start now and continue the push.”

– Patrick Pittenger, Carson City transportation manager