Carson downtown is timeless, so is its plan of action
July 11, 2005
“We want Carson City’s downtown to touch the life of every resident and visitor and be the essence of our cultural heritage and sense of connectedness.”
This was a major proclamation of the 2001 Strategic Plan for downtown Carson City, “a unique Nevada jewel.” The Redevelopment Authority Citizens Advisory Committee, who developed the plan, coined the “brand” for downtown Carson City as “timeless.”
Their vision was economic, physical and aesthetic revitalization of downtown. Indeed, I remember Joe McCarthy, Carson City’s director of economic development and redevelopment, remarking one day, “Downtown is the heart and soul of a city.”
The planning team clearly wanted to assure an unequivocal and continued connection to our cultural heritage. To make sure that their vision was consistent with values and beliefs held by townspeople, the committee conducted a $10,000 study of the values and beliefs held by Carson City residents. This study confirmed that the vision of townspeople are overwhelmingly the same as those held by the committee – historical, cultural and architectural preservation.
A lot has happened since then. City supervisors authorized a new planning process known as the “Economic Vitality Strategic Plan” which included a downtown segment. The “plan” cost around $265,000 and involved many volunteers attending many meetings.
While this document hardly rises to the status of a competent strategic plan, it does contain a series of suggestions, recommendations and references to “improvements.” The downtown segment relies almost exclusively on the 2001 plan, except for a comprehensive and original plat created by Art Hannafin and reviewed by the Economic Vitality Strategic Plan Downtown Study Group. No accountability reports explaining the results of this expensive effort have been published.
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To get an idea about how past downtown Carson City plans had fared, my daughter, Courtney, volunteered to conduct a comprehensive “Analysis of Plans and Surveys Conducted over the Past 16 Years” about “Carson City Urban Development.” Published in July 2003, this study researched 10 plans and surveys specifically regarding downtown. Courtney is a Carson City native, owner of 20th Century Preservation, and is the urban design and historical preservation officer for Las Vegas.
The study found a significant need for better communication among the various city agencies and civic organizations that oversee the creation of plans, progress management and implementation of recommendations. Most plans and studies were written and, characteristically, forgotten. Succeeding plans seldom mention even being aware of previous plans and findings.
The most significant findings were that all 10 plans show “an obvious emphasis on the economic development potential of the downtown area, with a desire to preserve and enhance historic resources.”
Unfortunately, but typically, we devote more time and money to planning than to the hard work of plan implementation. We write and publish most “strategic plans,” even master plans, without a critical “operations” plan that should commit the full range of resources needed to complete the vision, including people, money, material, information and time lines.
Based upon what we know now, it goes without saying that “economic” development in downtown Carson City should support, protect, and preserve our historical, cultural and architectural heritage. We have proven indigenous affirmation of this vision repeatedly.
Yet, Carson City is now deep into another planning cycle, a citizen-involved update of the master plan. At the current stage of development, it does not have much to say in detail about downtown. So the outcome remains to be seen. Interested citizens should keep a wary and sharp eye. I suggest that you often visit the plan’s Web site, carsoncitymasterplan.com.
I was somewhat appalled recently, though, when I read in the Nevada Appeal that the supervisors, along with Mayor Marv Teixeira, warned that plans should not be too rigid.
“We have to be flexible enough to take opportunity when it comes and not get all mixed up with the minutia because it doesn’t fit in with the master plan.” That’s not good enough.
When it comes to downtown, opportunities that don’t fit don’t belong. If the opportunity does not represent an unequivocal and continued connection to our cultural heritage, it is not an opportunity, it is a nocuous invasion of the soul of our city. Why spend $265,000 on a strategic plan, $10,000 on a values and beliefs study and countless hours on a master plan revision when the official sentiment is to do whatever is opportune anyway? Why plan at all?
Fortunately, Joe McCarthy is familiar with our many downtown studies and plans and their common intrinsic plea to preserve our historic, architectural and cultural heritage. Even “mixed use” needs deep and reflective scrutiny with caution as the key word. I especially trust that Joe and city planners will avoid any semblance of “Manhattanization,” which has struck Las Vegas and other unfortunate downtown areas across the nation.
Paradoxically, though, the spirit of our cultural heritage has survived to this day. It speaks to us softly through both what we know and through the many plans over these past many years. It reminds us to put teeth into our vision.
I have confidence that we will do so by preserving the spirit and soul of downtown Carson City. And I am equally confident that our city and its officials will also listen to these spirits, easily heard when you walk the downtown streets of our “timeless” city.
n Dan Mooney is a retired, 32-year Carson City resident.
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