A group hoping to bring a hotel and conference center to downtown Casper outlined plans to pay for it at Tuesday night’s City Council meeting.
The center would cost roughly $70 million. Between $30 million and $35 million would come from a loan, $30 million from public/gap financing and $5 million to $10 million from equity, said Brandon Daigle, the chairman of the Downtown Development Authority.
Most hotels built to accommodate a city’s conference needs require some public investment, with one study estimating the average public contribution at 43 percent of total development costs, according to Daigle.
In addition to the development authority, the conference center consortium group also includes representatives from the Casper Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Amoco Reuse Agreement Joint Powers Board and the Economic Development Joint Powers Board/Forward Casper.
The group recently identified a plot of land adjacent to the David Street Station as the best location to develop the facility, but city leaders had already advertised three city-owned buildings within that space as for sale. Three local entrepreneurs hoping to bring a bakery, an apparel company and new apartments to the downtown area submitted their proposals in October.
Explaining that these bidders were ready to get to work immediately, Councilman Dallas Laird asked Tuesday how long it would take until the conference center group could present an “iron-clad plan.”
Daigle said it would take six months to prepare a concrete financial plan.
“These types of projects, as you know, take time to put together,” he explained.
Members of the group have been talking to interested developers, but do not want to spent more of their time until the City Council decides to pursue the project, said Daigle.
Given that three entrepreneurs are “waiting in the wings” with their checkbooks, Councilman Bob Hopkins said he thought it would be best if the group selected another location.
Hopkins also had concerns that the location doesn’t offer enough space to accommodate the conference center.
The facility would house 200 hotel rooms, a 55,000 square feet conference center and 400 parking spaces, according to Daigle.
The group also had two other potential sites analyzed, including the Platte River Commons property and a property owned by Casper Redevelopment Corporation and the Natrona County Public Library Foundation. A study concluded that these locations were less desirable because they are further away from the city’s center and would therefore generate less foot traffic downtown.
Councilman Charlie Powell, who has previously stated that a hotel and convention center could help to diversify the city’s economy, thanked the group for their efforts and reiterated that a center would be a great asset for Casper.
While acknowledging that the group’s plan sounded like a “long-shot,” Powell said it wasn’t impossible.
“I don’t believe it’s a fairy tale,” he remarked.
The buildings in question, which are located on Ash Street north of Midwest Avenue, include the former Ka-Lark’s gymnastics studio, the former Milo’s Toyota body shop and a former livery stable.
Mayor Kenyne Humphrey said Wednesday that she was a bit disappointed with the presentation.
“I was hoping we would have a little more solid data by this time,” she said.
The discussion about Ash Street’s future will continue at a public hearing slated for next Tuesday.