Imagine a downtown Carson City business district along Carson Street with sidewalks that can melt snow and ice or feature Wi-Fi available for visitors and residents alike.
Better yet, imagine it with both, which is the vision of John Rutledge at the Rutledge Law Center. He’s the attorney serving as a spokesman in the slowly-evolving efforts to form a downtown commercial area vitalization district in the capital city’s core. The district mainly would be to help provide maintenance in an upgraded commercial corridor, but Rutledge also sees it as an opportunity for property owners to think outside the box.
“There are some things we could do that would have an up front cost,” said Rutledge, adding a cost-benefit analysis that showed benefits eventually making such an up front outlay reasonable.
Embedding radiant heat electrically in sidewalks to melt snow and ice, for example, could reduce costs or exertion for their removal, while ending liability regarding ice-slippage accidents and enhance downtown walkability. By working through a thermostat to turn the heat on when needed and shut it off automatically, the idea could be a boon, according to Rutledge.
“The benefits are huge,” he said. “It’s a no-brainer, almost, if it can be done in a cost-effective manner.”
Regarding the Wi-Fi idea, Rutledge said, it could be coordinated with the city and local commercial establishments to provide pertinent information online or for hand-held mobile devices when tourists or local residents are headed for or in the downtown. “Right now, if you arrive after 5 (p.m.) or on Sunday,” he said, “you’re kind of at a loss. It could almost be a big welcome page.”
To some, these may sound like pie-in-the-sky ideas, but Rutledge sees them as ideas that could enhance the city’s downtown commercial corridor as an add-on to the necessity of forming a business maintenance district called, in state law, a commercial area vitalization (CAV) unit. Some refer to them as business improvement districts and property owners form them based on a preponderance of support by the property owners’ assessed valuation.
City government, which is planning to upgrade Carson Street first and Curry Street later, plus put a community plaza on a closed West 3rd street between those two north-south streets, seeks the district so there’s business buy-in to keep city-financed improvements up as years go by.
Rutledge said based on assessed value, which is the way support is measured, more than 90 percent of property holders contacted favor the concept of forming a district. More than 85 percent of the assessed valuation’s ownership had been contacted, so Rutledge said the considerably more than half needed is on board regarding the CAV concept.
What the district would do, however, awaits detailed designs. Design is under way by city government and the city’s lead consultant, Lumos Associates, with 30 percent design status expected relatively soon, 90 percent design anticipated in the autumn and completion by the end of 2015. The CAV’s expected initial budget, meanwhile, would be up to $50,000 but not necessarily that much, if that’s what members decide, according to Rutledge.
Costs for anything still are mostly unknown, however, until design details crystallize, so Rutledge said that’s when members can get down to organizing and deciding about assessing themselves. He said the goal is to cover costs of maintenance that exceed the maintenance already supplied in the area by city government.
A preliminary document he provided said the sole purpose of the contemplated district would be to self-assess members in an amount equal to the city’s increased maintenance costs for a redesigned downtown. Year two assessments, according to the same document, “shall not under any circumstances exceed $52,500.”
Rutledge, whose downtown law center is in a brick building at 320 N. Carson St., said as details of the design move forward and city government provides details the district can move toward formal formation and decisions about maintenance, as well as any goals that then can be discussed more fully. Other prospects — along with maintenance and his hopes or ideas — could include such things as common promotions, events or additional proposals.
Community Development Director Lee Plemel said he intends to work with those organizing the CAV process in the private sector to keep them informed at each stage of the design process with the hope of bringing the CAV into existence before downtown details are completely crystallized. He indicated that goal was at the urging of Supervisor Brad Bonkowski and others anxious to move the private-public partnership forward and see the CAV formed.