INCLINE VILLAGE, Nev. - In 1984 a television ad featured an elderly lady peeking over the top of a fast food restaurant counter and after inspecting her burger asked "where's the beef?" The Wendy's commercial that featured the diminutive Clara Peller became an instant success relating to what many thought of the small meat portion in the McDonald's hamburger.
If Clara were alive today and visited our town, she would certainly say "where's the village?" Indeed where is the village? A recent out-of-town guest accompanied me to the post office and when saw the sign "Village Center," inquired if this was the Incline Village downtown. For this strip mall which looks like it belongs in South Central LA to be considered our town center is embarrassing.
How do you answer the question - perhaps the Raleys center or the Starbucks store? This is in a community that has spent millions of dollars on the new Chateau, new ski buildings, tennis courts, some place called Incline Lake, and is now potentially considering a new clubhouse for the Mountain course.
Together with new schools, a fire house with a heated driveway, curbs, gutters and sidewalks, one can see we're moving ahead.
Whatever your opinion of the above expenditures, and I've heard many, here we are looking at a community fixed around the fringe, but lacking a central area that will allow us to compete in the 21st century for future residents and visitors. To put it in medical terms, we have repaired the appendices but forgot the heart.
This town was originally subdivided as if it was the suburb of a large city. All residential with two golf courses, space for schools, maintenance, fire and strip malls for local shopping. Fortunately, the location with Lake Tahoe provided wonderful water access, waterfront living for some, and beautiful view sites. Together with favorable Nevada tax advantages, the town has overcome the poor zoning. Those who thought we were insulated from real estate price fluctuations have had a rude awaking the past three years. With added communities in the area and existing lake communities upgrading their facilities, competition in the future will be challenging.
A number of sites have been suggested, including the old elementary school, land by the library, the tract along Highway 28 and several undeveloped parcels. Interesting options, but each lack size and/or location. The town center needs to be a destination, offering a combination of commercial and residential, a location with restaurants, shops, entertainment and living units that appeals to all ages.
One option would be the area between Village and Country Club from the beach to Incline Way. This would include Lakeshore Drive - which would be removed - the village green and undeveloped land inside. The Hyatt would anchor the east end, and a new boutique hotel on the west end. Connecting the hotels would be a waterfront promenade with shops and restaurants that take advantage of the lakefront setting. Behind the lake front area, further development of commercial and residential offerings which could include a high end grocery store, entertainment venues and even an ice skating area. Beach access could be controlled if deemed necessary.
This is just one idea and there are more. Height limits and environmental issues all revolving around TRPA would have to be addressed. Coverage could be traded with the golf courses. Nothing simple, but the end result would pay big dividends.
So how does all this happen? The components of a town center are not unique. Towns in the US and Europe with similar geography provide excellent examples. The advantage we have is that we can pick the best features since we're starting from scratch. There is an active, enthusiastic and talented group of locals willing to get the ball rolling.
However, the stakes are too high, the risks inherent, without the expertise of professional planning and development firms. In order to facilitate their involvement I propose an international competition to develop a town center for Incline Village. A $1 million prize would be for the winning design. The one million to be raised by the community from cookie sales from our elementary school children, local fundraising events, businesses and from our more able contributors on Lakeshore. The idea is that the whole community comes together and shares in the future of our town.
Issues remain in our community. Governance needs to be addressed. Quality of education, mobility and quality of life are all important. But nothing will impact Incline's future more than its town center. A critical IVGID election is coming. Which of the candidates prefer the status quo, or do they have a vision for the future? A new general manager will be hired next year. It will require someone with vision, not someone looking for a last job before retirement.
Let's not let the Clara Pellers of the world ask "where's the village?" Working together we can make this dream a reality. It will not be easy but the future generations will thank us for enhancing our paradise.
- Rico Munden is an Incline Village resident.