I’ve been following the proposed $35 million Downtown Project rather closely, and I attended the public forum on the project about 10 days ago. After hearing Mayor Robert Crowell’s sales pitch for the project last Wednesday and discussing it with Supervisors Karen Abowd, John McKenna and Jim Shirk, I’ve decided that this project isn’t ready for prime time.
I think Mayor Bob and the Board of Supervisors should postpone a scheduled Feb. 20 vote in order to allow city staffers time to clarify certain questionable aspects of the project, which is tied to a one-eighth-of-a-penny sales-tax increase. As most of you know, the project contemplates a new $4 million animal shelter, a $2.5 million contribution to a new $8.5 million multi-purpose athletic center (MAC), and $10 million worth of enhancements to downtown and three business “corridors.”
City staffers made three detailed public presentations of the project last month, but too many questions were left unanswered. While congratulating animal shelter advocates for raising money for a new building, I question the cost of this facility. While it isn’t the “Taj Mahal,” as some critics assert, it would cost nearly $400 per square foot. I could build myself a fancy new home for that price.
I don’t really question the taxpayer contribution to a new athletic facility, and I agree with local “culture vultures” who urge the city to include a requirement that the MAC’s gymnasium be equipped for cultural and theatrical presentations — a worthwhile investment of taxpayer dollars.
As for downtown and the business “corridors,” I have a couple of questions: (1) How many businesspeople participated in the corridor discussions? I understand that only two or three showed up for the north corridor discussion. (2) How much money is the business community willing to invest in a project that will enhance their property values? I’d like to see businesses invest up front to make this project happen.
Moreover, if this project is so popular with businesses, why did so few businesspeople turn out for the public forums, and where were the auto dealers, the primary source of our sales-tax dollars? Where were the motel and restaurant owners? If the project is a winner for the business community, why hasn’t the Chamber of Commerce endorsed it?
Project proponents say downtown and corridor enhancements must be completed before new retail businesses will move to Carson. If you build it, they will come, proponents such as Garrett Lepire and Doreen Mack assert, but I don’t see the Downtown 20/20 group putting its money where its mouth is. Although they tell us that this project is essential to save downtown Carson, that argument sounds suspiciously like the one used by Steve Neighbors and his “proud grannies” in a failed attempt to persuade us to support the failed $40 million Nugget Project (CC1), which was defeated overwhelmingly at the polls in November 2012.
Some downtown merchants ignore history when they tell us the city hasn’t invested any money in the downtown core. The city invested hundreds of thousands of redevelopment dollars in the Telegraph Square Project in the late 1990s. Several businessmen received grants of more than $100,000 to upgrade their properties, and they know who they are.
I rest my case by urging Mayor Bob and the Supes to postpone the Feb. 20 vote on the Downtown Project until all our questions are answered.
Guy W. Farmer is a 50-year resident of Carson City.