Bonnie Weber and Paul McKenzie focus on Reno’s economic development

Paul McKenzie and Bonnie Weber

Paul McKenzie and Bonnie Weber are two candidates for Reno City Council, Ward 4. Paul’s photo by Mike Higdon. Bonnie’s photo provided by Bonnie Weber.

Reno city council candidates come from two different worlds but both are passionate about Reno’s future

This is the first part of a three-part series of Reno city council and mayoral candidate interviews. We asked fans what they wanted to know about the candidates and came up with the below 10 question. Read more about the other 4 candidates and origin of this series here. All answers have been summarized for space, brevity and context. We urge you to listen to the complete interview audio at the bottom of each story.

Bonnie Weber and Paul McKenzie, both candidates for Reno’s 2014 city council election in ward 4, both focused on small business development during their interview with Drinkable Reno. Paul focused on fiscal responsibility, reigning in deals that cost the city money and letting the liquor industry carve its own path. Bonnie focused on making Reno more livable, walkable, bringing tourists in to experience the beauty that locals already know.

1. What is your vision for Reno? How do you plan to help it get there?

Context: This is a simple establishment question. It sets the tone of the interview.

Bonnie: Bonnie discussed the new opportunities in Downtown Reno and Midtown and wants to focus on making Reno financially stable by working with different groups, including unions. “Just like our budgets at home, if we can’t afford to do something, do you do it? No you don’t,” she said. Bonnie wants to focus on understanding the way the city operates to find out what will work the best.

Paul: Paul believes Reno needs to find a new direction to improve its economy. He wants Reno to focus on diversification by moving away from gaming in order to stabilize. “We’re not going to get other industries to come to our city until we get our economy stabilized to a certain extent,” he said. Paul wants the city to use more in-state contractors and workers to build the city’s infrastructure rather than using out-of-state workers because it will keep  money invested in the community. Listen to the full audio below for his specific examples.

2. What is Reno’s current image inwardly and/or outwardly? What should it be in the future?

Context: This question is a concern to many locals since the recession, when we learned that casino gaming will not sustain Nevada and persistent negative stereotypes hurt our reputation.

Bonnie: Bonnie talked about the “Biggest Little City” image, that Reno is safe, walkable and nice. She cites an example of how she helped bring people into Reno for conventions and conferences by talking to them about the beauty of Lake Tahoe, the new areas of town and the walkability and safety. She wants Reno’s future to continue improving in these areas.

Paul: Paul said the image Reno projects outwardly still revolves around gaming, based on the billboards and advertising he sees on the way into Reno from other places. He believes gaming should be a secondary reason for tourists to visit after outdoor recreation, food, drink and Lake Tahoe. He wants Reno, Sparks and the rest of the region to be part of the “Tahoe Region.” “It’s one of the few places in the world you can go skiing in the morning and golf in the afternoon,” he said.

3. What role, if any, do local brewing and distilling businesses play in Reno’s future identity/image/vision?

Context: Breweries and distilleries represent an artisan business, especially in Nevada, that drive an economic index called discretionary spending. Discretionary spending is the type of money consumers spend on non-essential items after bills and taxes. If locals and tourists can afford alcohol and contribute to this local industry, it demonstrates the overall health of the community. More specifically, these businesses can drive awareness and tourist traffic.

Bonnie: Bonnie cites her experience as a restaurant and bar manager and said she loves places like Bourbon Street in New Orleans and likes the idea of Reno’s new bars, breweries and distilleries helping the city move into a more lively, exciting, walkable, 24-hour place. Part of a city like that would involve good regional transportation.

Paul: Paul cited his time in the military because he experienced German beer festivals and cultural events during the summer. He said the liquor industry will need to drive the events they want to happen in Reno. As a city council member, he would be supportive of these types of events.

4. How does the “University Town” plan to connect and expand the University of Nevada, Reno fit with the more adult themed parts of Reno’s districts?

Context: The “University Town” or Reconnecting Districts concept is an idea to connect the University of Nevada, Reno to downtown Reno with mixed-used zoning, a ban on casino development and a push for transit and parks.

Bonnie: Bonnie said she’s thrilled that Reno is part of IBM’s Smarter City. She said Reno is not known as a university town and has a long way to go to make it into one. She again, emphasized the importance of regional transit. She said it would be great to connect the areas of town with a street car system, for example.

Paul: Paul said that when he and his friends attended UNR, it was known as a party school, which drew a lot of attendance, despite it not being the greatest reputation. He said the adult-themed areas of downtown are not a problem to him because students will go where they want or are allowed to. He’s not sure that filling the space between UNR and downtown with shops and food will help because students may never walk all the way downtown past these new businesses. Instead, he’d rather the space between be filled with more university related businesses, such as high-tech firms. Similarly to Bonnie, Paul would like the Virginia corridor to become a light-transportation corridor for bikes, walking and a trolly with no cars.

5. Would you bring attention to the local brewing/distilling businesses in the city through government supported advertising and/or marketing with City of Reno or Reno-Sparks Convention and Visitors Authority?

Context: The RSCVA and the City of Reno promotes many local businesses in its efforts to bring tourists to the area.

Bonnie: Bonnie works on the board for the RSCVA and asked what image the RSCVA has in relation to advertising for the city. I explained that this question comes from seeing gaming billboards on the way into Reno (as Paul mentioned earlier). She explained that the funding may be able to come from different sources and that it’s important to feature different brewery or other related business throughout the year instead of just casinos.

Paul:  Paul said this is dependent upon the industry and whether or not they want to create events to drive people to Reno. He then gave examples of events generated by individual organizations and the city only helps facilitate those.

6. Reno and Las Vegas both have loose open container and public intoxication laws. Do you consider those laws good or bad?

Context: This relates to the type of culture in Nevada and many outdoor drinking events that we have in town. Las Vegas recently banned glass containers on Fremont Street because it was becoming a public safety issue. It should be noted that Nevada does not have any laws prohibiting public intoxication (drunk driving not withstanding) and is actually against Nevada state law for any local government to create a law prohibiting it. #becauseNevada However, open alcohol containers outside are prohibited (especially in cars, except limos) and downtown events are allowed because they create a “beer garden” perimeter around the event.

Bonnie: Bonnie said she likes the looser open container laws because it brings people together, safely, to enjoy an event. On the other hand, she said we don’t want people lying in the streets or becoming unruly. Without the laws, we wouldn’t be able to do beer crawls or the wine walk.

Paul: Paul said these laws, in general, create safety and litter issues but those are in many ways, a given, in any area that allows drinking. During events, the public services in Reno coordinate and compensate for these increases in activity. Barring any changes in these arrangements, Paul sees no issues with the way the laws currently exist.

7. Does the Economic Development and Redevelopment Agency help or hurt businesses?

Context: This question is about whether or not redevelopment agencies are needed to help the city grow and change.

Bonnie: Bonnie admitted that she doesn’t know enough about the agencies to answer this question directly. She said that so far she thinks the redevelopment with the Aces Ballpark, Midtown and small businesses are a positive.

Paul: Paul said both agencies are really well-intended agencies that help improve blighted areas with new businesses, making them more comfortable for visitors and locals. However, Paul said the agencies broker deals in order to draw new businesses, which takes away from the agencies’ original intentions. He uses the Aces Ballpark as an example of a negative effect, because he said it used STAR (Sales Tax Anticipation Revenue) bonds and took money from the city to pay for it. Fact check: The Aces Ballpark never used STAR bonds, the Freight House District is located in a tourism improvement district (source). According to the Reno Gazette-Journal, “up to 75 percent of (the Aces Ballpark and Freight House District) sales taxes stay put — there are just no STAR bonds issues for the development. So out of that 75 percent, 13.3 percent goes to the Washoe County school district over the next 20 years. The city of Reno also gets a cut.”  

8. Do the two redevelopment zones — Downtown and Midtown-Fourth Street zones — help or hurt businesses?

Context: The redevelopment zones in Reno are responsible for many new businesses but is it at the cost of other areas of town?

Bonnie: “Absolutely help,” she said definitively.

Paul: Paul said he believes in redevelopment and investing resources into redeveloping in a fiscally responsible manner. Fact check: He continued to inaccurately describe the Aces Ballpark and Freight House District as using STAR bonds, which neither did. However, he said that development needs to be based on the worst economic times, rather than the best. This is a reference to the deal for the ballpark revolving around pre-Recession property taxes that theoretically would’ve increased around the ballpark had the Recession never happened. The property tax was supposed to go back to the ballpark developers to pay for the project but now the city and locals are responsible for that money.

9. As casino employment has declined, food and beverage service employment has increased throughout Nevada. How would you deal with this change in the local economy?

Context: According to the Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation, the casino industry employed 14% fewer people in 2013 than it did in 2000, while the food and drink places employed 65% more. This is a significant change in a tourism and local economic driver.

Bonnie: “I think it’s awesome.” Bonnie said it’s important to grow businesses and places to work.

Paul: “The reason gaming employment declined is because gaming is not a main part of our economy anymore,” he said. Paul continued, that the city needs to spend time making more sustainable businesses and reasons for tourists to visit Reno, by continuing the trend of more restaurants and recreational businesses.

10. Much of the difficulty in establishing liquor production businesses in Nevada comes from local regulations. Some cities and government agencies (including Las Vegas) established programs to help the industry. What regulations, agencies or programs might you propose to change, create or cut as it relates to the liquor production industry?

Context: This question combines everything into one direct question about new liquor businesses and how the candidate can influence that process. Some regulations might include forcing breweries and distilleries to build grease traps, a very expensive and completely irrelevant utility. It can also related to zoning, liquor laws, taxation and distribution.

Bonnie: Bonnie said she does not support more regulation in any industry. She said the main concern should be for Reno to continue to build the community and bring back visitors.

Paul: Paul said he’s unsure what all is in place to restrict the liquor production industry but it’s not wise to put hurdles in the path of any business that wants to develop in the region. “If there’s hurdles we can help move, I’d be more than willing to help move those. Impairing any business from establishing here is foolish,” he said. He went on to say there’s a stigma around alcohol production that he does not share. He told the story of a friend in Elko who started a brewery and found that it was difficult for him to market and sell his beer in Nevada because of various legal hurdles.


For the full interview and last comments made by the two candidates, listen to the audio clips below.

Paul McKenzie’s interview

Check out his website for bio information

Bonnie Weber’s Interview

Check out her website for bio information

Reno City Council Ward Map

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Mike Higdon

Editor & Publisher at Drinkable Reno
Mike Higdon is a journalist passionate about beer and cocktails. He started the site because no one else covered Reno's growing craft scene at the level of detail required to stay in the know about all things drinkable in Reno.