Casper Plaza

Signs announcing the closing of Plains Furniture plaster the windows in downtown Casper. The city has purchased the building and plans to use the site for parking for the planned plaza project nearby.

Dan Cepeda, Star-Tribune

The dirt will need to start moving soon if Casper’s downtown plaza is going to become a reality by this time next year.

The City Council held a special meeting Tuesday afternoon to help push forward construction of the delayed downtown plaza. There hasn’t been much visual progress for the David Street Station so far, but there’s now renewed hope among those involved that the project can proceed on schedule.

The Council voted to approve a new understanding between the city and the Downtown Development Authority that would break the project down into a sequence of phases. They also approved the leasing of parking spots to help a local business inconvenienced by the plaza’s construction and passed a new lease agreement for the plaza’s development.

DDA Executive Director Kevin Hawley said earlier this week that demolition could start in the next month and construction could begin this summer.

“We’ve been delivering on everything we’ve said that we’re going to do,” Hawley said at Tuesday’s meeting.

Referring to the amount of public money the city has spent on the project, former councilman Keith Goodenough said he was concerned with the DDA’s ability to maintain the plaza once it’s built.

“Before this project came along, the DDA was a shoestring operation,” Goodenough said.

The city previously agreed to invest $3 million in unallocated 1-cent funding for the project.

The Council also voted in January to pay about $3 million for property near the plaza that includes the Plains Furniture building on South David Street. City leaders have been questioned about purchasing the property during an economic downturn, but have said they felt the opportunity was too good to pass up. The area could later become a parking area.

“The downtown sorely needs parking if we build a plaza or not,” councilman Charlie Powell said.

City staff have repeatedly said they will not put any more city money into the plaza. The DDA has raised $5.5 million to date for the plaza’s construction, the same amount the organization said they had in January. Construction is estimated to cost $7.5 million.

Hawley has said he’s hopeful that pending grant applications could help close that deficit in the near future.

Brian Scott Gamroth, vice chairman of the DDA, said some in the city have been using the DDA and the plaza project as a scapegoat for their frustrations. The process has been open to the public and the plaza’s vitality has already been discussed, he said.

“This is an incredible thing we’re trying to get accomplished here,” Gamroth said. “Let’s try and not tarnish it.”

The DDA has said the plaza will be ready before the total solar eclipse in August 2017. City officials expect that Casper could handle 10,000 to 20,000 visitors during the rare celestial event. The DDA is expecting the plaza to open in the spring of 2017.

Follow local government reporter Hunter Woodall on Twitter @huntermw.

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