C.O.D. Casino in high gear | RecordCourier.com

C.O.D. Casino in high gear

by Sheila Gardner
Marlena Hellwinkel and her son Rob, pose for a picture in the original building of the Minden C.O.D. Garage, which opened in 1908.
Jim Grant | The Record-Courier

More than six years ago, casino owner Scott Tate stood before the Minden Town Board, and pitched a plan to convert the old C.O.D. Garage into a casino.

By the end of this summer, Tate — who owns casinos in Fallon and Silver Springs — hopes that dream has become a reality.

Tate doesn’t have an exact date, but is optimistic that the completely renovated C.O.D. Casino will be open for business.

Nobody could have foreseen the tumble the economy would take in 2007-08. The recession slowed the project, but Tate said he never considered taking it off the table.

“We’re people of our word,” he said in a recent interview. “We are committed to doing this project. We will not be over-leveraged; we will not borrow tons of money. We are adequately capitalized to ensure its prosperity and future.”

For Robb Hellwinkel, and his mother Marlena, the renovation rekindles decades of memories of the family automotive garage and pride in the building, which has anchored Esmeralda Avenue in Minden for more than 100 years.

Built in 1911, and vacant since 2003, the C.O.D. Garage was one of the oldest operating commercial garages in the United States.

“We wanted this project to stand on its own merit because it’s a good project, not because of who we were or because of our family’s history. I can’t say enough about how great it has been to work with Scott (Tate),” Robb Hellwinkel said.

Tate declined to specify how much the company has spent on the renovation. Fifteen to 20 workers are on the project now, and Tate said the casino would employ 45 to 50 once it’s open.

“This building, as you can tell, has a lot of personality and character. It’s a work in progress. We got in there and found different things and adapted plans as we went along. It’s on time — and equally important — on budget,” he said.

Tate said it would have been less expensive to simply tear down the old garage and start over, but that was never a consideration.

“It’s the Minden downtown corridor,” he said. “Our aspiration is that others will prosper from our investment.”

The physical labor of renovation and conversion began last June. While the outside hasn’t changed, the vast interior of the 24,000-square foot structure is a different story.

The contractor, Bison Construction owned by John Martin of Washoe Valley, has the dual task of preserving the past and bringing the distinctive brick building up to code.

Original trusses and a long-concealed “Carson Valley Meat Market” sign have new life as the renovation uncovers hidden gems within the building and shores up the past to meet the present.

“The whole objective was to keep the character of the building and exterior as close to the original as possible,” Robb Hellwinkel said.

Tate said the C.O.D. project is the only casino under construction in Northern Nevada. He believes the only other casino project on the books is in Las Vegas, and being built by a Malaysian conglomerate.

Tate said he is so taken with Douglas County, he and his family purchased a home in Stateline.

“Minden is a pretty special place. First of all, it starts with our relationship with the Hellwinkel family that we started years ago,” Tate said. “We truly believe this project will enhance the downtown area — a quaint and special place.”

Original plans called for a museum, bakery and spa within the complex. Tate said the project is “pay-as-you go,” and he is still planning a food venue.

Schat’s Bakery, which has a store in Carson City, was part of the original plan.

“I haven’t had an opportunity to talk to them lately,” he said of the Schats. “As far as I am concerned, I have aspirations for them to be there.”

Paul Schat said Tuesday he was still interested in a Minden location.

“It comes down to leases and money. We’re very interested. We live down there (in Carson Valley), and you couldn’t ask for a better location. We do the Esmeralda farmers market on Tuesdays in the summer, and everybody wants us to be there,” he said.

The C.O.D. Garage was named after Clarence O. Dangberg. Fred “Brick” Hellwinkel started out at the garage in 1912 as a mechanic and became a full partner in 1919.

Marlena Hellwinkel said she thinks her late husband and his brother — Don and Danny Hellwinkel — would be pleased with what has happened to the building and business they inherited from their father Fred.

“This garage was Danny’s life and he would be very pleased, and become very emotional knowing that the building and its legacy is being saved,” she said. “Don would be so proud of what Robb’s done, of Robb’s tenacity.”

Robb Hellwinkel said from the beginning, his family wanted neighboring businesses and residents to know what their plans were.

“There weren’t really feasible options for the building except for gaming,” Robb said.

“Mom and I always believed from day one that going with gaming would be successful,” he said. “No doubt, the timing could not have been worse. With the change in the economy… that’s what took so long to get to this place.”

The project also includes a parking lot in excess of 75 spaces built in an empty lot across from the casino.

Tate said the C.O.D. Casino reflects his company’s commitment to its employees and the community.

“The economy is far from being healthy, but people are confident the fall has stopped and we’re in a place where we can build back from there.

“We have a great core of employees and they’ve all worked hard during the economic pullback. This demonstrates our confidence in that area. We’re ready to move forward,” Tate said.