Carson City's dreams of becoming a high-tech haven are moving forward despite the defeat last week of a tax ballot measure to finance a new library and education center.
The 65,000-square-foot Carson City Knowledge and Discovery Center project, which was to be located on what is now Carson Nugget parking lots, was soundly rejected by voters.
But that won't affect plans for the unofficially named Carson City Tech Center and Accelerator, according to Rob Hooper, executive director of the Northern Nevada Development Authority.
"This is a separate project that is moving forward on its own," says Hooper. "We well revitalize the downtown regardless of the vote."
The NNDA is working with the Hop & Mae Adams Foundation, the group that bequeathed casino property to the city for the proposed knowledge center, to build and finance the downtown tech center located on Carson Street in the former Stewart Title Co. building.
The business incubator is intended as a launching pad for technology companies, which the city hopes will create well-paying jobs and modernize the local economy.
The building is on track to open sometime in the second half of 2013. Plans are to gut and refurbish the two-story, 5,000-square-foot, 1960s-era building based on a design by local architect Robert Darney and voted on by the public.
Darney says the plans call for flexible, energy-efficient space that can be easily and quickly reconfigured for a variety of tenants.
"It will be a combination of hard walls and demountable partitions," says Darney, and will include secure building access, lockers, bathrooms with showers on the first floor and a recording sound room inside what was once a vault used by the title company.
"Biggest thing we discovered is the space has to be flexible," says Darney.
The exterior will be "reskinned," says Darney, replacing the glass front on Carson Street with brick and stucco to mimic facades of buildings in the surrounding area. The building's recognizable exterior sign will remain.
Darney says the request for proposals for the building's rehab is on its way to a half dozen, hand-picked northern Nevada construction firms. Construction is expected to start in the second quarter 2013 with a ribbon cutting on the project planned for the third quarter.
The NNDA says it is negotiating now with young companies interested in being the accelerator's first tenants, including Say Design Inc. , a games and applications developer now based in southern California, a digital video production company, and SunScience Corp., the Reno-based maker of building control systems that wants to set up a second location to develop and demonstrate its technology.
SunScience plans to put in a lighting-management system at the Carson City center that can be easily reconfigured as well as save money for its users, and can be used as a showcase for the company's technology.
"What we're building is a very unique network that manages everything down to the light bulbs," says Dick Kelsey, SunScience president and chief executive officer. "When new tenants come in it will be easy to move overhead lighting in five minutes."
The system also includes energy management, which Kelsey says reduces costs by lowering peak energy use that utilities use to calculate charges, and a CO2 monitor.
"We're developing systems so it will be a place where you really want to be," says Kelsey. "Systems like this are in the buildings like Empire State Building. We're looking at doing it for small to medium-sized buildings."
The NNDA is working out the terms of the contracts for tenants, but rent will be based on a company's income and designed to give the upstarts a leg up.
"If there's no income, there's no rent," says Hooper.
Hooper said companies stay an average of 18 months in similar accelerators located elsewhere. The building can house as many as eight businesses, depending on their size, Hooper says. The terms of the contract for tenants is being worked out now, but he said the goal is to see the companies thrive and commit to establish themselves in the area.
Besides providing modern space, and a break on the rent, the project will offer tenants and other local tech startups pro bono business help.
Hooper said the NNDA has 300 local professionals, including lawyers and accountants, serving on 13 different committees that he expects to make time for the center's businesses.
Currently, there is a contest to name the center. The Web site for voting is found at hopandmaeadamsfoundation.org/name-building.