Guy W. Farmer: Steve Neighbors, the pied piper of Boise

I watched and listened attentively on Feb. 17 as Carson Nugget President Steve Neighbors, a self-described "outsider from Idaho," performed his clever but ultimately unsatisfying Pied Piper of Boise show for the Carson City Board of Supervisors and an overflow audience at the Community Center. I wasn't impressed, however, and only two supervisors danced to his increasingly dissonant tune.

Neighbors, who bills himself as a "turnaround specialist," was there to defend what I call the Nugget Bailout Project - supporters call it the City Center Project - which requires the city to put more than $30 million taxpayer dollars at risk over the next 30 years. Although Neighbors and his cheerleading section, led by supervisors Karen Abowd and Molly Walt, and Library Director Sara Jones, say the project is "for the children" of Carson City, those same children would pick up the due bills if the $80 million scheme falls through, which is entirely possible in a bad economy.

Even though supervisors voted 4-1 to go forward with the project - to take the next step, and nothing more (no final approval) - only Ms. Abowd and Ms. Walt provided enthusiastic "yes" votes. Mayor Bob Crowell, an astute attorney, and Supervisor Shelly Aldean, an experienced commercial property manager, expressed serious reservations while newly elected Supervisor John McKenna, a respected CPA who was elected to keep an eye on how city officials spend our tax dollars, voted against the project on grounds that it isn't economically feasible. In other words, we can't afford it.

McKenna questioned whether Neighbors' downtown vision "needs to have a debt for 30 years." I don't think so, and neither do most of the citizens of Carson City. Of course the only way to measure the true level of public support for this risky project is to put it on the 2012 ballot. McKenna and project opponents raised several important questions, which Neighbors & Co. failed to answer with any specificity:

• Why does the city need a big new library - excuse me, "knowledge and discovery center" - when libraries are downsizing in the digital era? The library of the future will be about the size of my new Kindle reader, which can access many more books than I can find at the local library.

• And why would the new library be located next door to a casino rather than closer to Carson High School or Western Nevada College, where the students are?

• And finally, why would project developers build a new 120-room hotel across the street from the Nugget when the city's hotel/motel vacancy rate hovers around 50 percent?

As I said, Neighbors failed to answer these and many other questions to our satisfaction and most of us went away frustrated by his incomplete and evasive answers. Frankly, I tuned out when he said he was here to save "downtown Boise." Oops!

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


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