This letter is a discussion of the historical relationship between the Carson City Board of Supervisors and the downtown property and business owners. It is not intended to denigrate any member on the board, of whom I have a good deal of respect. The letter is intended to assist the board in their review of reducing the traffic lanes in the downtown area.
Also, I hope to demonstrate the division the board has created between the community and the downtown owners/operators, as well as within the board itself.
It is time for the Board of Supervisors to start considering the community as a whole and not just what is best for the downtown businesses.
Remember, the City has spent millions of dollars to help renovate the downtown area over the past 30± years with little results to show for it. During these 30-plus years, the downtown businesses have solicited the Board for financial help to improve their streets (street closures), parking, planters and reimbursements at taxpayers expense for new improvements, but nothing has seemed to work.
Furthermore, there is no evidence the Carson Street lane reduction will benefit the businesses (no feasibility study).
To demonstrate the harmful impact to the downtown businesses and city due to the lane reductions, the first item to be addressed will be the comparison between the Elko downtown area and Carson City’s eventual downtown region when the bypass is completed, even though the impact has already significantly taken place.
While recently working in the downtown area of Elko, I investigated their historical changes, especially those that impacted the downtown area. Based on my research — Carson City’s downtown in three years will reflect Elko’s downtown condition today. Some 30 years ago, Interstate 80 bypassed the City of Elko along its northwestern boundary. Initially, the freeway had limited impact on downtown businesses, as all the commercial properties were located along Idaho Street, its main thoroughfare. As time progressed, major commercial ventures located proximate to the two freeway interchanges that serve Elko. It was the start of the City’s downtown decline.
Elko’s downtown business decline is similar to Carson City, when a number of the large retailers located to the north, south and east ends of Carson City (1980s and 1990s). This is when the
Carson City downtown businesses and owners took the first major step to revitalize the downtown, i.e. tax incentives, and new public parking lots.
Following the relocation of many of the Elko downtown businesses to the outlying “mega centers”, additional roads were constructed from the freeway interchanges to provide better access to the community. In Elko, the Mountain City Highway was extended further easterly to connect with Silver Street. Due to the easier access, Silver Street in Elko, has now become the primary main street in the southern portion of the community. With declining traffic counts, the City decided to narrow the main street (Idaho Street) from 4 lanes to 2 lanes. This was done 1+ year ago. Based on my discussion with some business owners along the main street, their businesses have not improved, but only gotten worse in a number of cases, even though on-street parking was provided.
Furthermore, when the Carson City bypass is complete, evidence indicates Highway 50 (William Street) will become the “Gateway” to the downtown area. With Carson Street narrowed, travelers will bypass the street and take Stewart Street instead, which is three blocks closer and contains four-plus lanes. As a result, I believe the reduction of Carson Street from four-lanes to two- lanes will be harmful to the downtown business owners, as it has been for many businesses in Elko.
The second major detriment to reducing Carson Street is the diminished hope of implementing the City’s downtown Mixed Use development program. I was happy to see the City implement the Mixed Use plan some 10+ years ago, which allows residential uses in the downtown commercial core area (residential apartments or condos above retail/commercial businesses.)
A recent article in the Nevada Appeal addressed the potential of a third floor being added to the former First Federal Savings and Loan Building (City Bank Building.) This would be the first new mixed use project in the downtown area in some 75+ years.
By reducing Carson Street, it will adversely impact the development of mixed use projects in the future. Because access and logistics to the current downtown area will be more difficult, the potential for successful and feasible mixed use projects will be diminished in the future (poorer access to the residential units along Carson Street and streets west).
Based on past downtown renovation programs, it might be best for the City to step back from their involvement with downtown owners and let the businesses make their own changes.
One of the Board’s first devastating renovation decisions was to raze the old roundhouse facility. The next poor decision was to approve an added tax to the residents of Carson City to build the V&T rail line from the east end of Carson City to Virginia City (the proposed train depot will be some 2 miles east of the downtown area). At the expense of the residents of Carson City, they have been paying for the cost to build and operate the V&T, but it has not improved our retail tax base. It has only helped the Virginia City businesses. If the roundhouse facility would have been preserved, the tracks could have been extended down the center of U.S. Highway 50 to the roundhouse site.
Though the logistics are a little more difficult today, it could still be achieved - bringing a signature use to the downtown area to attract tourists.
It is also time for the Board to address all commercial sectors of the community collectively, not just the downtown businesses. Since the bypass opened, traffic counts along the north end of North Carson Street have declined nearly 60%, while the traffic count along Carson Street in the downtown area has declined nearly 50%. These are alarming figures, and what will the board’s decision be when the bypass is fully completed and traffic counts drop significantly along South Carson Street? We need a comprehensive plan for the whole community. Furthermore, it is possible the lane reduction of Carson Street in the downtown area, could have an adverse outcome to the other commercial regions of the community? We don’t know, as no feasibility study was completed.
Though it is rarely discussed, - maybe some of the products and services being offered in the downtown shops and restaurants are not items desired by local residents. Why are the residents of Carson City responsible to bail out poor businesses? In addition, why should the majority of the community lose diminished access and logistics to the downtown area just because local businesses lack products sought by local residents? A feasibility study would have helped answer this question.
The third and final item is the board’s and downtown owner’s disconnect with many citizens in the community. I was hopeful after the 2012 election, when nearly 70% of the voters soundly defeated the proposed City Center project, that the board and downtown businesses would find a better method of communicating with the residents of the community. I recently attended the meeting of the City’s new Strategic Plan. It is my understanding, less than 100 citizens attended the four opportunities to inform the community, which is .18% of the residents of Carson City. The City Manager indicated at the meeting they had less than 60 residents respond to their survey.
In light of the above discussion, I ask the board to postpone the lane reduction along Carson Street, until a feasibility study is completed. This will be a good start to mending their relationship and trust with the entire community. At this crucial time for the City, with the Bypass nearly complete, I believe restoring the people’s confidence in the board should be their number one priority. It is fairly evident the Strategic Plan town meetings was an attempt by the Board and City Manager to reach out to the community, but appears to have failed. I believe your intentions are good, but the lane reduction of Carson Street, without a feasibility study and more comprehensive attempts to engage the residents, can only further widen the division between the community and the board, as well as downtown businesses. Per your own recent press release, the City is planning to spend $10 to $11 million dollars in the downtown area. It is still not to late to do what is right.
Daniel A. Leck is owner of Daniel A. Leck & Associates in Carson City. He can be reached at 775-882-8999 or firstname.lastname@example.org.