Guy W. Farmer: Keep Carson an Old West capital city

Editor’s note: This column was modified from its original print version:

Carson City is an Old West capital with a rich historical heritage, something city supervisors and the Historic Commission should keep in mind as they make plans to revitalize and “re-brand” the downtown core of Nevada’s capital city.

While I applaud businesses and entrepreneurs who are willing to invest their own money in downtown Carson, rather than asking taxpayers to finance their redevelopment projects, I urge them to retain the historic character of our town. I write this after examining preliminary plans for the Capitol Mall “innovation district” project just north of the Carson Nugget.

According to developers, led by the Chicago-based MacCompany, the ambitious project includes a 150-room hotel, a companion tech conference center, two office structures, two parking garages, retail shops and bistros, “and an amenity-filled green space plaza for community gatherings.” At first glance, it looked a lot like the first draft of the old taxpayer-financed Nugget Project, which was decisively defeated at the polls in 2012. The difference is they’re not playing with our money this time around, and that’s a good thing.

What I don’t see in these preliminary plans, however, is any recognition of downtown Carson’s historic heritage. What I do see is upscale, yuppified development designed to attract young “millennial” shoppers and tourists. That’s all well and good but developers shouldn’t forget their core constituency – people who have lived and worked in Carson for more than 5 or 10 years.

Therefore, developers should ensure new buildings are compatible with local historic landmarks like the Capitol Building, the St. Charles Hotel, the Laxalt Building and the State Museum. Because the venerable Nugget is to be adjacent to the proposed Capitol Mall, it’s re-branding itself to appeal to a younger crowd. The casino’s popular coffee shop is now “The Eatery” featuring “healthy” food and it shares space with the new “Alatte” coffee and wine bar.

Apparently, “millennials” love kale, tofu and fancy cups of coffee.

“It’s exciting, it’s new and it’s centered on guest services,” said Nugget CEO Dean DiLullo. Of course I wish him well.

MacCompany’s local partners, City Supervisor Brad Bonkowski’s NAI Alliance and the Northern Nevada Development Authority (NNDA), should ensure the Chicago investors understand our local history and heritage and the importance of retaining the Old West character of downtown Carson. A cautionary note: There are those who want to turn downtown Carson into a pale replica of a pretentious Marin County “village.” I have news for those folks: Carson isn’t Sausalito and thankfully, is never going to be. As some of us old-timers like to say, We don’t care how you do it in California. Let’s just say no to the Californication of Carson City, even though some of our favorite people live over there.

Noted Nevada author and historian Stanley Paher, who recently published an elegant coffee table book titled “Nevadans, the Spirit of the Silver State,” has urged us to treasure our frontier heritage. “The state’s prosperity speaks for itself,” he wrote, “but Nevada’s heritage cannot protect itself from untoward invasion. We must forever embrace Nevada values, because they are tried and true.” Amen!

I hope local and out-of-town investors will keep Paher’s words in mind as they design and develop the ambitious Capitol Mall project in order to preserve the pioneer spirit of our historic capital city.

Guy W. Farmer has been a Carson City resident since 1962.


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