Keep an eye on the fairgrounds |

Keep an eye on the fairgrounds

Guy W. Farmer
For the Appeal

A couple of weeks ago I urged my readers to keep an eye on that new casino development on the old Bodine’s property at the busy intersection of Highway 395 South and Clear Creek Road. I issued that warning because I fear that sooner or later the out-of-state casino owner will want to turn the adjacent Carson City Fairgrounds into a parking lot.

In order to gain approval for his casino, Washington state developer Michael Pegram waved a million dollars in cash and in-kind services under the noses of Mayor Marv Teixeira and city supervisors, who quickly accepted his offer on a unanimous 5-0 vote – too quickly, in my opinion.

In 2005 developer Kevin Coleman entered into a non-binding verbal agreement with City Parks and Recreation Director Roger Moellendorf stating that there was sufficient space on the Bodine’s property for casino parking. In addition, Coleman offered $1 million dollars worth of cash and in-kind contributions for additional spaces at the fairgrounds in case the casino needed overflow parking for special events.

According to that understanding, the city would have had absolute control over parking on public property and the developer would have had to submit special requests for overflow parking on the north and east ends of the fairgrounds. Well, that was then and this is now. What has happened since then is that the Coleman deal fell through, and Pegram stepped forward with a new proposal for the Bodine’s property, in which the parking arrangements had changed. Supervisor Pete Livermore enthusiastically described the Pegram deal as an attractive “opportunity” for the city. Well, maybe.

Under a new written agreement, overflow parking at the fairgrounds is no longer under city control. Instead, it’s designated as “free and open public parking.” That’s why Parks and Recreation Commissioner Tom Keeton, who’s very knowledgeable on municipal issues, asked Moellendorf whether there was any way fairgrounds users could reserve parking spaces for their special events. “The answer was a clear and unequivocal ‘No,'” said Keeton, who cast the lone vote against the deal.

While the new casino meets municipal parking requirements with 226 spaces on the Bodine’s property, commonly accepted industry standards call for about 500 spaces for a casino that size. So it’s in the developer’s own best interest to put in at least 274 additional spaces. Personally, I think Pegram is feathering his own nest with his $1 million offer to the city. And make no mistake about it, when push comes to shove, casino parking will take precedence over fairgrounds parking despite the “free and open” proviso in the new agreement.

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Allegedly, money will be left over from Pegram’s contribution for much-needed improvements to the fairgrounds. But there are those who believe that $1 million will barely pay for the additional parking he needs. It’s a fait accompli by now, however, because the Board of Supervisors quickly approved the new deal, brushing aside Keeton’s valid objections. Keeton and others question why the city is granting special concessions to a private developer on public property. My answer: Because our elected representatives subscribe to the “any development is good development” school of city planning. And besides, developers contribute to political campaigns. Surprise!

My principal objection to the new project remains the same: Casino gambling is incompatible with the outdoor recreational activities that take place at Fuji Park and Fairgrounds. We well recall how city officials tried to sell the park to private developers a few years ago for something called an “upscale lifestyle center.” After park and fairgrounds users went ballistic, that cockamamie project was put out of its misery when voters rejected the idea of selling city parks to commercial developers. That one was a no-brainer.

Carson is already saturated with casino gaming and we don’t need more slot machines and sleazy payday loan “services” in our historic capital city. Remember that the lion’s share of casino revenue goes to the state and not to the city, where it’s needed most. Carson City needs retailers, not more casinos. One final question: If Supervisor Shelly Aldean, who is the landlord at the Southgate Mall, where Max Baer, Jr. wants to build his tacky hillbilly hotel-casino, thinks legal gambling is incompatible with J.C. Penney and other retail businesses on her property, why does she want to locate a casino next door to Fuji Park and Fairgrounds?

So keep an eye on that valuable piece of city property as the Bodine’s casino project moves forward. And keep an eye on Mayor Marv and the supervisors too because, ultimately, they’re responsible for the unforeseen consequences of this new development.

Merry Christmas!

• Guy W. Farmer, a semi-retired journalist and former U.S. diplomat, is a longtime resident of Carson City.