After five hours of public debate Thursday, the Carson City Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 to take the next step in determining whether a controversial $84.2 million downtown redevelopment project will work for Carson City.
The project will now move to a design development agreement phase which will need to be scrutinized by the board before a deal is struck.
Supervisor John McKenna, who opposed going forward with the City Center Project, said while he believed in having a vision for the capital city, he didn't believe the project was feasible.
"I don't think a vision needs to have a debt for 30 years," McKenna said, calling for the board to kill the project. "It is old thinking that can't work in today's economy."
More than 100 people packed into the Sierra Room and overflow areas in the hall of the community center to express their support or opposition to the project after hearing Nugget President Steve Neighbors explain what the project could do for Carson City.
The project includes $31.9 million in public investment, which would include a new library, public plaza, parking garage and infrastructure. The private portion is $52.3 million, which would include office buildings and a hotel.
"The objective is to create careers, not jobs, so the youth in the community can have a future in Carson City," Neighbors said.
City Manager Larry Werner said there were moderate risks to the city, but recommended board approval, saying it was a risk that should be taken. He said it would take 90-120 days to work through the negotiation process.
A feasibility study showed that projected revenues to support the project in a worst-case scenario would be $884,000 from a 1/8-cent sales tax hike, $500,000 from redevelopment funds and $1.2 million from the general fund.
Public opposition ranged from objections to the proposed sales tax increase and the location of the library and from paying for a parking garage to the amount of long-term debt that would be incurred.
"What's the hurry?" asked Bill Johnston. "Let's put this up for a vote. I love the project but the timing is bad."
Morris White suggested that if the city wanted to do something to invigorate the economy, they should pour money into building a bigger airport to attract new business.
Several representatives from the construction industry spoke for the project, many saying that families are moving away from Carson City because they can no longer make a living here.
"This is a great project and we strongly support it," said Buzz Harris of Nevada General Contractors.
And Lenny Chappell of Downtown Business Association told the board that 85 percent of the members of the DBA were in favor of the project.
Carol Howell raised many questions, and didn't think the project was about Carson City's children, as many have said.
"Making this about the children, when they're going to be the ones who will pay for it, is not the right level to start on," she said.
Gene Munnings suggested the city use existing vacant buildings for the project.
"Build it, own it or renovate it," he said.
Pat Sanderson said he has lived here all his life and has supported the proposal from the beginning.
"This is just one more step to see if this is going to work out. Until we sit down and see if it works out, we'll never know," he said.
Supervisor Shelly Aldean asked whether the project could move forward without having to first build the parking garage, but Neighbors said parking has to be addressed up front because construction would have an impact on the Nugget.
"Construction is detrimental to the casino business. It could fall to 50 percent through the construction," he said.
He added that his clientele would need to have someplace to park.
"You would kill the Nugget if we did this without the parking garage."
Supervisor Molly Walt talked about creating a desirable downtown.
"It's about creating a hub," she said.
And Supervisor Karen Abowd said the city needs to take action.
"If we're waiting for the state to turn us around, it's not going to happen," she said. "This is about tomorrow, not today."
Aldean acknowledged that the project could be risky, but that taking a look at a design development agreement would be prudent.
"There's no doubt about it, this is a gamble," she said, adding that it could end up being more of a calculated risk than a gamble, with the proper research. "The only way we'll know is to do the design development."
She urged city staff to try desperately to confine the plan to two funding streams, without use of general fund money.
Mayor Bob Crowell said he brought the project idea with him to a Mayor's Institute he attended, and the consensus among participants was that, "a 21st century library is an ideal redevelopment tool if we do it right."
He said there were a couple of deal breakers in the plan for him that he hoped could be worked out.
"I'm on the edge here of too much risk, but it's worthwhile to move forward" to look at details of a design development agreement, he said.