Casper’s arts and culture scene grew livelier in 2017 with a host of new businesses and development adding more options for local cuisine, entertainment and nightlife.
Downtown and Old Yellowstone District in particular boomed with several new venues that opened in time for August’s solar eclipse crowds.
“There has been so much of a renaissance of the downtown area within the last 12 months, it’s just been wonderful,” John Giantonio of the Casper Area Convention & Visitors Bureau said last week.
City planner Craig Collins said the eclipse spurred timelines for central Casper projects, though momentum for development has been building for years. For instance, efforts to revitalize the Old Yellowstone District began about a decade ago. Despite initial skepticism, community support has made the change happen, he said.
He’s seen many changes during his more than two decades in Casper, but the momentum has picked up more quickly in the past 12 months, he said.
“That’s also going to pay dividends because now people are starting to see what can happen,” he added.
Casper’s new public plaza, David Street Station, kicked off its community offerings with the Wyoming Eclipse Festival featuring local performing acts and Wyoming native Chancey Williams and the Younger Brothers Band. Since then, it’s hosted a free concert with chart-topping country artist Dylan Scott, the Ford Country Fall Festival, a Halloween costume contest and other community events.
A 2007 city of Casper plan identified a need for a public gathering space such as a town square in the area, Collins said. The Downtown Development Authority brought its own vision for David Street Station and made it a reality this year, he said.
The city can’t take much credit for the development and growth of business and cultural activities, he added. Much of the change has been organic and led by the community.
“That wasn’t something the city did,” Collins said. “We provided, call it the canvas, and the private sector is filling it in.”
Businesses that opened shortly before the eclipse downtown include new bar and restaurant The Gaslight Social, which continued to draw crowds after the eclipse with its games, outdoor gathering space and live music. Its stage recently hosted a concert series called Jazz Verbs featuring local musicians and students.
Frontier Brewing Company also officially opened before the eclipse, though before it was open, the business participated in certain community events including the monthly Casper Art Walk. The business has continued hosting events from band performances to trivia nights. The Wonder Bar also celebrated a pre-eclipse re-opening with significant renovations under new ownership.
Karen and Jim’s Restaurant and Movie Star Lounge reopened after renovations last spring to become the Office Bar and Grill with an emphasis on an upscale bar atmosphere. The updates include USB ports and plenty of large windows. The space continues to host its long-popular karaoke nights. The Crescent Moon Coffee Stop opened in April, and has lately hosted a variety of acts from rock bands to jazz groups.
Other new businesses downtown include Pokes Deli and Outlet, which opened this summer with sandwiches and University of Wyoming apparel. Event venue Yellowstone Garage in September added a bar and grill.
The spate of businesses opening downtown have added to the atmosphere and cultural scene in Casper, ART 321 director Diane Harrop said.
“It seems that we have seen a lot of new faces and people just walking around or riding their bikes around in good weather, and people just don’t seem to be as in huge of a hurry as they used to be when they’re downtown,” Harrop said. “I think it’s become just a real welcoming, fun place.”
Other factors influencing entertainment in Casper include new management at the Casper Events Center bringing in larger acts in recent months, said Giantonio, of the visitors bureau.
The city-owned Casper Events Center was privatized in October of 2016 through Spectra Venue Management, which brought in big name acts this year including Elton John, Eric Church and the Foo Fighters. The venue will focus on increasing ticket sales in 2018, general manager Brad Murphy said.
“We need to see some growth in our ticket sales, but other than that I think from an operational standpoint, in just starting to bring shows in, I think ‘17 was a good year,” Murphy added.
Spectra also runs the concessions at the new Hogadon Ski Area lodge on Casper Mountain, Hogadon manager Chris Smith said. The space started hosting events including weddings in September, and plans for events year-round, including live music.
Giantonio believes people will be looking back a year from now on 2017 and the spark the eclipse gave it as a pivotal time for Casper’s offerings and economy.
“I think the eclipse was an enormous catalyst for downtown development or even just Casper development in general,” he said. “This has probably been the best year for Casper ever.”