Revitalizing Casper’s core has long been a priority for city leaders.
Nothing illustrates this point better than last summer’s opening of the David Street Station, a public plaza equipped with a stage for bands and performers. City officials hoped the complex would create a livelier downtown atmosphere, and the plan appears to be working. Various new restaurants and bars including The Gaslight Social and Racca’s Pizzeria Napoletana have popped up in the surrounding blocks.
The Casper City Council now faces a dilemma about what comes next. At issue are three city-owned buildings near the plaza on Ash Street north of Midwest Avenue.
A local group told council members Tuesday that the land could be the best place for an approximately $70 million hotel and conference center because of its central location.
But Casper leaders had already advertised those buildings for sale, and three local entrepreneurs hoping to bring a bakery, an apparel company and new apartments to the downtown area submitted their proposals in October. They presented business outlines to Council earlier this month, and Council members had expressed enthusiasm about the bids. The bids expire Dec. 14.
The conference center group, however, advised the City Council on Tuesday night to hold off on making a decision. They include representatives from the Casper Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Amoco Reuse Agreement Joint Powers Board, the Downtown Development Authority and the Economic Development Joint Powers Board/Forward Casper.
The group has no “malicious intent” against the entrepreneurs who bid on the buildings, said Brook Kaufman, the CEO for the convention and visitors bureau. But a central location is ideal for a conference facility because the proximity to shops and restaurants would likely encourage visitors to spend more money, according to a study conducted by KTGY architectural firm and the Economic and Planning Systems.
Two other sites were also analyzed, including the Platte River Commons property and a property owned by Casper Redevelopment Corporation and the Natrona County Public Library Foundation, but the study concludes these locations are less desirable because they are further way from the city’s center.
Although an analysis of the site is complete, how to pay for the conference center remains under review.
Explaining that previous plans for a conference center never panned out, Councilman Shawn Johnson said he doubted this latest attempt would either.
“We need to move forward,” he said, supporting the local businesses that submitted bids. Another site could be used for a conference center, he added.
But Councilman Charlie Powell said the idea of a conference center shouldn’t be brushed off, given that it could help diversify the city’s economy.
Other council members were split on the issue.
“It’s kind of a mess to be honest,” said Councilman Jesse Morgan, explaining that he wanted to support local businesses but also felt a conference facility would be a great addition to the city.
Council ultimately decided to hold a public hearing about the issue on Dec. 12. City officials bought the buildings last year with no exact plans for their use.
Kirstin Bott, one of the entrepreneurs who submitted a proposal last month, said Wednesday that she plans to attend the hearing.
The owner of Frosted Tops wants to purchase one of the city-owned buildings along Ash Street because her bakery — currently located at Parkway Plaza — needs a larger space.
Pointing out that proposals were due in October, Bott said this latest turn of events is surprising.
“I’m disappointed in the fact that not all parties were held to that same requirement,” she said.