Downtown Carson City to see ‘innovation district’ by 2018

A 10.5-acre Carson City Capitol Mall project with a 10-story hotel, multi-story office structures and parking garages moved from the drawing board to city government Thursday. This drawing was the first proposed project.

A 10.5-acre Carson City Capitol Mall project with a 10-story hotel, multi-story office structures and parking garages moved from the drawing board to city government Thursday. This drawing was the first proposed project.

An “innovation district” called the Capitol Mall will rise by 2017 or 2018 in downtown Carson City, according to backers.

That’s the gist of the message touting the proposed technology-oriented multiplex as it was outlined by two developers and associates. It’s a project covering several square blocks that will include a 150 key hotel, a companion tech conference center, two office structures, two parking garages, retail shops, bistros, and an amenity-filled green space plaza for community gatherings.

The project footprint will run north of the Capitol to near the Carson Nugget casino, mostly between Carson and Stewart streets.

“The city has prepared itself for the future that’s now coming here,” said Rob Hooper, director of the Carson City-headquartered Northern Nevada Development Authority (NNDA), who also is one of two managing partners of the development firm putting the project together. It was Hooper who called the goal an “innovation district” to help attract tech-oriented synergy and high paying jobs to the city.

Hooper’s co-manager in the limited liability development company is Matt MacRitchie of MacCompany’s in the Chicago area, who was video-conferenced in for the project’s initial and preliminary unveiling during a sit-down interview with the Nevada Appeal. The session was at the NAI Alliance commercial real estate office just blocks away from the project site.

NAI’s Bruce Robertson, project broker, said there’s considerable interest from prospective tenants.

MacRitchie was happy to disclose some aspects, but stressed the private sector plan was in a late formative stage, albeit well along in various ways, and still subject to change. He said, however, work is under way to take the proposal before the city’s Planning Commission in March or a subsequent meeting this spring. That follows drilling for core samples on project land, multiple design decisions and revisions, lining up financing or tenants, and more.

MacRitchie, despite due diligence and things-can-change warnings, was willing to hazard a guess when the project would move from drawing board status to phased-in reality. He talked about 26 months for construction, which would mean 2017, though his first guesstimate had been three years, or perhaps into 2018.

Also on hand for the unveiling dialogue were Andie Wilson and Brad Bonkowski, principals of the NAI real estate who brought Robertson into their fold recently.

Bonkowski said he was there as a city supervisor, but also was a member of the NAI team. He said he wouldn’t vote when any city matters involving the private project come to the Board of Supervisors because the NAI firm is involved, thus avoiding any conflict of interest.

“I’m just not part of this project as a broker,” said Bonkowski, but he still identified himself as part of the team pushing it. Bonkowski said the 2017 date for the project has importance because that’s when a downtown corridor improvement by city government is moving forward and the freeway bypass should be done.

In addition, he also saw the project and its green public plaza space as a win-win for surrounding businesses to enhance downtown life. “It’s a good feeder for the retail,” Bonkowski said.

Wilson, meanwhile, echoed MacRitchie’s and Hooper’s points about the project’s design and details still being a moving target even as she agreed retailing is important.

“We’re in ‘due diligence;’ it’s going to change,” she said, at the same time lauding the fact there will be first floor retailing space in most of the buildings because downtown needs more consumer-oriented opportunities.

Hooper and Robertson, however, kept the focus on tech as the driver, Hooper praising high end info-tech and med-tech or other technology opportunities that are possible here and in the region. He said it also will help prove a catalyst for manufacturing, which increasingly is tech-oriented, and other well-paid jobs.

Robertson said the tech conference center is an integral part of the plan, providing space for 750 to 1,000 conference participants next to the hotel. He also said tenant space in the approximately 450,000 square feet in the office buildings is about 50 percent spoken for, adding interest in the project’s restaurant and other retailing options is solid.

MacRitchie, who termed the lodging property “a select service hotel,” said it would have 150 parking spaces in it, or one per room. He said an example of how project design has changed during due diligence, or could still, is the hotel began as one with a suburban look but has morphed into one more integrated with a downtown setting. He said building sites have been moved around on the site footprint as well during design work.

Hotel building parking is just the tip of the iceberg if Capitol Mall plans go forward as currently envisioned. The surface parking lot west of the Carson Nugget would have an elevated garage for the Nugget and downtown as the only part of the project’s footprint on Carson Street’s west side, and it could handle 300 or 400 vehicles. Plans call for a connection to the casino by a skywalk.

The parking garage to the east, between the two office buildings and along Stewart Street, could handle up to 1,000 more vehicles, according to the group.

MacRitchie was keen to let residents know plans call for not only green space, trees and other amenities in the plaza, but greenery between the office structures/parking garage and Stewart Street so it isn’t just walls facing east along that part of the development.

“We want to be able to provide that kind of environment,” MacRitchie said.

Hooper and MacRitchie credited each other and many others for work on the project to date, throwing bouquets in various directions going into the next step of a phased unveiling to the public regarding the private-sector project.

Hooper said the city prepared itself for the future now arriving, among other things, by enhancing workforce development via training upgrades, through the Board of Supervisors doing various things, not the least of which is business corridor improvement plans downtown and in other city sectors, and by the Chamber of Commerce helping to serve businesses as it promotes networking for growth.

“This is a whole lot of moving pieces coming together,” said Hooper, crediting the entire community. “This is our creation of ‘place;’ we’ve built all the other pieces.”

Hooper and Bonkowski said the project will help put Carson City on the global map for tech-related opportunities, with the supervisor prompting the NNDA chief to talk about interest from a delegation representing Poland who came here recently. Hooper said the Poles represented 20 tech companies and he’ll talk with them again in Washington, D.C. on March 23.

“This changes the conversation,” Hooper said, expanding that message to include all his recruitment efforts.

MacRitchie, instead of focusing only on future tech jobs or spinoffs, talked as well about job opportunities as the project unfolds. He said already on board is a local firm, and there would be local hiring for construction or by the businesses that become tenants.

“We have a very good local contractor on board,” he said, though he didn’t disclose a name. “We will be creating lots of jobs for lots of people.”

Asked about financing, MacRitchie said that part of the development run-up is proceeding well but didn’t disclose amounts or investors lined up. Nor did he divulge estimated construction costs, though guesses of beyond $100 million or more have surfaced elsewhere.

Mae Adams, the late co-owner of the Carson Nugget, and the Hop & Mae Adams Foundation board also were credited in paving the way for the project near the casino on foundation land. Steve Neighbors, foundation spokesman, said two years ago he was proceeding with plans to bring private sector, tech-oriented development to downtown Carson City. He made that vow after a public-private, library/tech-related project didn’t work out.


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