Last chance to stop local corporate welfare


It's already too late for Sparks. The city has sunk upwards of $50 million into downtown redevelopment, with much more to come and little to show for it thus far. But the contracts are inked and those in charge must defend their deals as good public policy. No one apparently ever asked if this huge commitment of tax money was a good idea in the first place.

In reality, there never was much downtown to redevelop after the Nugget won permission to cut down a stand of magnificent trees on Victorian B-Street back in the 1960s. There was, of course, a compelling reason for the floral carnage: the casino needed more parking spaces. Besides, the trees obscured the view of that ugly fiberglass gold miner.

Last Chance Joe, the Nugget's 40-foot plastic tribute to 1950s-era roadhouses and gas stations, remains on the job down to this very redeveloped day. A few of his faded brothers remain at bypassed yahoo rest stops across the country, usually in the form of Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox.

When Sparks first talked of higher design standards and upscale redevelopment, I thought someone would ask Big John to send Little Joe to the big promotional Ponderosa in the sky. Apparently no one had the guts.

I thought when the Victorian-era theme for downtown was announced, Joe would go. Or at least they'd modify him to look like Sherlock Holmes. "B", Victorian Blvd. was originally supposed to be patrolled by cops dressed as London Bobbies with bullet dome hats. I thought that would look as perversely attractive as any other bit of Nevada bad taste. If Vegas can get away with medieval castles and pyramids, we could place London cops in a wild west railroad town. All the world's a stagecoach, eh wot?

I would have enjoyed seeing Bobbie cops at Hot August Nights, especially if Sparks ever got around to having more than one minority officer on the force. But some $50 million down the road, the Rail City has a firefight with the NAACP and little to show for more than $50 million in taxes.

Reno's worse. Unlike Sparks, they have a real "there" there, an identifiable, redevelopable town center. They, too, have spent over $50 million, but for less than nothing. Bulldozers and recycled movie theaters comprise the extent of Reno's new ideas, sort of Sparks on the river minus Last Chance Joe.

Last week, Reno announced that it was screwing over other scheduled proposals and doing a deal with a San Diego developer. These guys obviously visited Victorian Square to learn how to acquire cheap land in prime locations from the local hicks. They knew that asking an extremely high price for their services was the key to convincing the landed gentry which calls the shots. If you sell cheap, you are cheap. Once you extract a fat fee, the phonies at the top will convince their elected minions of your priceless value to the body politic.

Consultants must have one other qualification to succeed here in the Turkey Meadows: they must commute from California. The yokels need reinforcement that they're getting heavyweight expertise in exchange for handing over taxpayer land and money. People have confidence in overpriced imports.

Corporate welfare is a lucrative way of life in this country. We bash the 21 year-old single mother and condemn her baby to malnutrition, but devote billions of tax dollars to enriching domestic and foreign corporations. Look at Nevada's mining industry. Drive past Washoe Medical Center, which corrupt local politicians gave away to the pirate-proprietors now profiting handsomely from human misery. Remember how the gambling-industrial complex succeeded in raising everyone's taxes but its own at the last legislature. The airport and convention authorities act as money laundries to shunt taxes toward private gain.

Turkey Meadows leaders are now pursuing one of California's biggest welfare queens. The San Francisco 49ers bullied and conned The City out of hundreds of millions to build a new stadium and megamall. Now they want millions from Reno-Sparks to relocate their summer training camp to UNR.

Beware: the jockocracy corrupts and corrodes. As this column has documented so often over the past year, the university is used every day as a clever vehicle for private interests to enrich themselves. (The entire university series remains available on the web and local copy centers as noted below.)

The Crowley-Ault administration continues to skim student health and other fees for athletics and empire building. While classes get cancelled and basic student supplies remain lacking, the U is spending some $700,000 for what is mockingly called Stonehenge—granite pillars upon which to place the names of rich donors. Sounds like a good place to park Last Chance Joe. Or they might move him to the football field and rename him Joe Montana.

Reno should fold downtown redevelopment and return millions in taxes to residents who need it for frills like pothole repair.

The town has one last chance to avoid becoming like Sparks. Take it.

Be well. Raise hell.


© Andrew Barbano
Andrew Barbano is a Reno-based syndicated columnist and 29-year Nevadan, is editor of U-News.
Barbwire by Barbano has appeared in the Sparks Tribune since 1988 and parts of this column were originally published 8/31/97.

Reprints of the UNR financial scandal newsbreaks remain available for the cost of copying at
Nevada Instant Type in Sparks and both Office Depot Reno locations.