September 14, 2020

Mayor Bob & the Carson City Downtown Reboot

Mayor Robert Crowell (who is known by everyone there as Mayor Bob) passed away last week while serving his third term as Mayor of Carson City Nevada.  He was a lawyer who specialized in governmental relations, and a retired Navy captain. But he was also a Mayor that knew every member of Carson City’s staff by name, was very active in the community and single handedly steered his city to a remarkable change~he advocated and completely overhauled the town’s  main street, which was previously a commercial thoroughfare and a marked highway.


By stewarding a car centric downtown into a walkable, bikeable destination, Mayor Bob changed the culture and commerce of his community, and made the downtown a place residents flocked to and spend time in.

The state capital of Nevada is Carson City which has a population of 56,000 and is thirty miles south of Reno Nevada. Despite being a state capital, Carson City is a town that was  forgotten by development. There are  many Victorian era buildings in the downtown, a legacy of its 1858 settlement that serviced nearby ranchers.

Despite a downtown that contained a lot of important heritage buildings as well as the grounds for the state capitol, the  four lane highway barrelled through the main street, with  traffic proceeding at  speed requiring steel fencing to corral pedestrians along sidewalks. Even with the barriers, pedestrians were maimed and killed while trying to cross the street.

With funds from a locally generated  1/8 per cent  sales tax, Carson City issued bonds to pay for a revamping of their downtown corridor.  Vehicular speeds were reduced, sidewalks were widened, and the mess of utility poles and boxes on the street were undergrounded.  Non glare surfacing was applied on sidewalks, planters and benches located along the street, and pedestrian activated crosswalks installed.

Utilities were replaced under the road surface, bike lanes implemented, drop curbs installed for accessibility, and attention to textures and detail was a priority. The total cost of the new downtown streetscape revitalization plan was 11.4 million dollars.



Within two years of the 2016 installation not only had the main street physically changed, the people that used the downtown had as well. Instead of being a place to quickly run a vehicle to, residents could bike and amble on the main street and linger on a plaza created by closing a sidestreet.

That plaza had a stage and a kid friendly splash pad, with many small local businesses located around the square. Residents now linger in the downtown, and businesses like a Soup and Ice Cream bar provide product at affordable prices for a range of age groups.

Many new eateries have opened, including The Union which is always busy and attracts visitors from Reno.



And pedestrian fatalities on the street? Zero.

Carson City has always had a strong arts focus  with the nearby Brewery Arts Centre and now has a downtown that is accessible and attractive to pedestrian and bicycle users. There is a renewed interest in being downtown, as you can view in the YouTube video below.

As Mayor Bob observed “A big part of what we’re doing down here is to create not just a sense of place, but a sense of community. Some will say, you know, you are just doing this for downtown businesses but we are doing it for the entire city so that we all share in what is happening with the diversification of northern Nevada.

Thank you for showing the way, Mayor Bob.


                  Images: CarsonCityNow, SandyJames

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