Guy W. Farmer commentary: Downtown project is underway
Shovel-wielding city officials tossed some dirt into the air Monday to kick off the $11 million downtown project, which is supposed to beautify downtown Carson and repair and/or replace crumbling infrastructure like ancient sewer and water pipes. As responsible journalists, we’ll be watching for things like cost overruns and unnecessary expenditures as the project moves forward.
“We’re going to turn some dirt and turn a new page on Carson Street,” Mayor Bob Crowell told a small crowd of onlookers Monday. “Let’s all do our part … to make sure what we’re doing here succeeds.”
I heard the same positive message from supervisors Karen Abowd, Lori Bagwell and Brad Bonkowski. All of us love Carson City and we want the project to succeed, which doesn’t mean we won’t have questions from time to time.
For my part, I want to make sure the beautification part of the project maintains Carson’s historic heritage as an Old West state capital. There are those who’d like to turn downtown Carson into Sausalito, a yuppified Marin County enclave. No thanks!
Supervisor Bagwell, who voted against the project, thinks it would have been rejected if it — along with an accompanying sales tax increase — had been submitted to the voters, and I agree. Many local taxpayers are skeptical about these kinds of projects, given our experience with the ill-fated library project back in 2012. We voted that one down by a 68-32 margin because it would have spent some $40 million taxpayer dollars on downtown improvements that would have benefited a few property owners.
Supervisor Bonkowski recently told me that infrastructure upgrades are absolutely essential, and that’s why he supports the downtown project. I think those upgrades could have been accomplished without narrowing Carson Street and widening the sidewalks, but that’s another discussion. A narrow main street and wide sidewalks are part of a frequently cited “vision” that isn’t shared by many local citizens.
Supposedly, the project will bring younger people downtown, where they’ll drink lattes and eat healthy salads at sidewalk cafes. Well, maybe, but I don’t think that’s who hangs out downtown. Most of the people I see down there look like me (elderly folks), and they’re playing video poker. I don’t think the latte crowd is going to come downtown until there’s a retail anchor for them to visit, something like Murdock’s Department Store, which drew many shoppers to the area in the 1960s and 70s. A glorified food bank won’t attract potential shoppers. But that’s just my opinion for what it’s worth, if anything.
Supervisor Jim Shirk is still asking his constituents whether they approve of the downtown project. Give it up, Jim, it’s a done deal and construction is underway. But I wonder why the main contractor, Lumos Associates, felt it was necessary to pay a Reno public relations firm $100,000 to promote the “Carson Proud” campaign, the PR part of the project?
I received a press release from Reno’s Impetus PR Agency announcing Monday’s ground-breaking ceremony. Question: Doesn’t Carson City government have anyone who can write simple press releases? Full disclosure: I received a free “Carson Proud” T-shirt, so I shouldn’t complain. I understand the Impetus contract will be canceled next month. Good.
Well, that’s my take on the downtown project. I think it should have been submitted to the voters, but now it’s underway, I too hope it’s going to be successful. At the same time, I’d like to see some new, upscale businesses as the city offers matching grants to property owners willing to upgrade shabby facades on old buildings. No freebies for anyone. Fair enough?
Guy W. Farmer, a longtime Carson City resident, is the Appeal’s senior political columnist.