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‘Visions’ vary for Nevada City

The message was clear – if you have the vision to make something happen, it can.

If that means closing downtown Nevada City to cars or the city subsidizing a drug store to restore its gold-town feel, it is all possible – just as long as the drive is there.

These were the types of inspirational messages that resident Kirk Valentine spoke about during a public “vision” meeting he organized and held at City Hall on Wednesday morning. The meeting’s overriding theme was the future of Nevada City. The underlying theme was the proposed Business Improvement District that the City Council will vote on at its April 25 meeting.



The proposed improvement district has caused a rift between business owners. Some feel the district could focus on making the city more attractive and more livable. Others are wary of the price tag, which would be $40,000 for the first year, divided among the 140 business owners.

“We earn our own money and we have the right to spend it the way we want,” said resident Linda Hawthorne, questioning the additional costs and the need for the district when there is already city government and the Chamber of Commerce.




Valentine said he was not there to push any certain agenda, only to get residents talking about what they want. At the meeting, he encouraged others to share their thoughts and feelings about what direction they want the town to move in, with the idea that most people want similar things – an attractive environment, a sense of community and culture, and good business opportunities.

“I want my son to be able to continue the business I started 30 years ago and make it his own,” said Pat Dyer, a former Nevada City mayor and owner of the Utopian Stone jewelry store on Broad Street.

Others spoke about how much it meant to be able to go to SPD Markets for a gallon of milk and run into so many people they knew, but they were concerned that this perhaps was a passing era – especially with the heavy reliance on tourism and the boom in real estate offices.

In some ways, it’s a process that can feel irreversible, said Sintao Heung, owner of Bonanza Market,

“It is like 16 going on 17 – you can’t go back, but how can we keep everything everybody wants?” Heung said.

The tough part, Heung said, has been creating a viable business that caters to both tourists and locals.

The improvement district should be looked at as a tool, said resident and former Nevada County Supervisor Peter Van Zant. If it doesn’t work after a year or two, Van Zant said, the City Council can opt not to renew it. Valentine said that if it comes back to a battle over money, the improvement district could maybe look to fund-raising efforts.

“The fact of the matter is, everyone (who owns a business) knows pedestrian traffic is down, and down significantly,” said Jim McConnaughay, owner of Country Collectibles, explaining that he would like to see the community come together to make these tough decisions.

“I want a more unified front, a more common, agreed-upon agenda,” he said.

Chuck Warner, who moved to Nevada City with his wife less than two years ago, said he felt the meeting was productive

“It was about networking,” he said. “It is not what’s in it for Chuck Warner, but what’s in it for the people in the room.”

Some facts about the proposed Business Improvement District for Nevada City:

• The district boundaries tentatively span from the Broad Street split to Sacramento Street and from the intersection of York and Pine streets to the Pine Street bridge.

• The first year, the $40,000 cost would be split between the 140 businesses within the district, said Pat Dyer.

• The fee would be collected by a nonprofit organization and distributed by a steering committee, which would govern the district during its first year.

• The money would be used to supply services that serve to beautify and preserve the downtown area. Possibilities include park benches or even a Web site.

• The City Council must re-authorize the district each year.

• For more information, contact district organizer Wyn Spiller at 265-9463.

– Brittany Retherford


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