Creating a vision for downtown
April 9, 2013
Where there's a plan, there's a will, Minden Town Manager Jenifer Davidson said last week about the future of Carson Valley's historic downtowns.
She was referring to the Valley Vision project, one of 12 projects identified in Douglas County's Economic Vitality Plan, and for which public workshops begin Monday.
Development of the plan has a price tag of approximately $70,000, with a third being funded by the county and towns, and the remaining funds coming from private stakeholders.
Proponents hope the visioning process will pull together discrete elements of the Valley's pioneer towns and produce a workable plan toward shared prosperity — a plan that better integrates downtown Gardnerville and Minden, preserves and strengthens historic cores, and addresses critical issues such as traffic, parking and pedestrian suitability.
"I have every confidence that if we come up with a good vision and the community gets behind it, then those people who need to step up to make the vision a reality will step up," said County Manager Steve Mokrohisky. "One investment begets another investment. It creates momentum."
Mokrohisky, Davidson, Gardnerville Town Manager Tom Dallaire, Genoa Town Manager Sheryl Gonzales, and Design Workshop Principal Stephanie Grigsby meet on March 28 to discuss the vision process and what backers hope to achieve.
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Mokrohisky framed the issue with a common perception among the public, that "both sides of town are bookended by Walmarts now."
"The question we have to ask is what we do between the Walmarts," he said.
"The middle is filled in with people from the private sector who care very much about the history of the towns," added Davidson.
Everyone at the meeting agreed that the will exists to get something done. The question is how and to what extent.
"Part of the purpose of developing this vision is the recognition that everyone is tired of watching semis roll through town destined for another place," said Mokrohisky.
Although the towns themselves and nonprofit groups like Main Street Gardnerville have been working for years to beautify streetscapes, "there is still a 5-lane state highway cutting through the downtown corridor," Mokrohisky said.
How can traffic be slowed on Highway 395? How can public parking be improved and better designated? How can sidewalks, benches, plazas, kiosks and other amenities be improved, maximized or funded in the first place? These are questions facing the towns.
Each town, though, has specific problems.
Davidson mentioned the Minden Gateway Center and how the town is working to improve its curb appeal, that "wow factor."
Dallaire talked about pedestrian access, making downtown Gardnerville safer and more walkable.
Both acknowledged the hard work of getting support, securing funds and pooling resources.
"It's a long-term plan," Dallaire said. "I think funding will come in small chunks."
"We need people willing to take risks and invest in a sense of place and destination," Mokrohisky said. "We don't want to change what we have. We want to enhance what we have."
Five years ago, the Town of Genoa implemented a strategic plan that called for significant improvements, such as underground utilities, a plaza, pavers, parking, kiosks, and a pedestrian trail to Walley's Hot Springs.
This summer, visitors to the town will discover its new look. Construction on the last projects are scheduled to wrap up by the end of June.
"You can imagine how businesses are impacted," said Gonzales, describing construction. "But these improvements really underscore and strengthen the experience in downtown Genoa."
Mokrohisky called Genoa "the best example of taking a vision and putting into reality."
"The trail (Vista Trail) is just packed with people," he said. "It serves as that connection between services, businesses and amenities to create a destination. We can't create history. The history's already there. We just need to create that connection linking people together to have an experience."
In terms of redevelopment, Genoa may be closer to the finish line than Minden and Gardnerville. It benefitted from $2 million in redevelopment funds, to which the Valley's two central towns don't have access.
But Minden and Gardnerville have other means: serious investors, state grants, and a veritable army of volunteers.
Mokrohisky said the solution is to expand the coalition and "identify common purpose, common vision, and move forward."
"The government is not the solution to all challenges, but it can be part of the solution," he said. "We have greater success if the public works with the private sector in a true partnership."
Case in point: the Martin Slough Trail, which will connect Lampe Park and Jake's Wetland. Parts of the trail have been completed, right-of-way secured, and an application for grant funding submitted to the Nevada Department of Transportation.
But local governments aren't alone. Carson Valley Inn is building out a section of the trail, and the Ranch at Gardnerville has dedicated open space.
"If you build it, they will come," Davidson said.
The visioning process began last fall and has garnered about 50 stakeholders, from government officials to business owners and residents. The Carson Valley Chamber of Commerce will act as the "conduit" agency, collecting funds and contracting with Design Workshop.
Grigsby said the Valley Vision will take, at most, six months to complete. Public workshops scheduled for April 8-10 in Minden will "illustrate what the plan means in terms of physical improvements."
During the first meeting on April 8, the public is invited between 1:30 and 3 p.m. to discuss elements with planners and designers as they actively map the area and develop a vision. At 5 p.m. the same night, there will be an open house.
On April 9, from noon to 1:30 p.m., the public will have another chance to contribute to the process. On April 10, from 3:30-6 p.m., there will be a presentation summarizing progress thus far.
Grigsby said Design Workshop has an in-house illustrator who can turn around renderings within a few days.
"It's a chance to see ideas come to life pretty quickly, get feedback and generate conversation," she said.
Any contributions from the public will be combined into a document, reviewed and refined by stakeholders, then brought back through another round of workshops before being presented to local governments for adoption.
A similar process recently played out at Lake Tahoe for the South Shore Vision, which enlisted the help of towns, counties, business owners, and Design Workshop.
The South Shore Vision focuses on transforming a gaming-based economy into a recreation- and amenities-based destination.
The revitalization efforts weren't without controversy. A proposal to reroute traffic around the casino core sparked debate amid the business community.
Mokrohisky said the county has learned from that process and, regarding the Valley, "will do all that engagement up front."
"Those contributing understand that something has to change in the environment of the downtown corridor," he said. "We've seen larger businesses down to smaller businesses agree that now's the time."