After working for years to revitalize Casper’s core, many city officials now consider downtown a point of pride.
The David Street Station, a public plaza offering an outdoor stage and recreational spaces, opened with fanfare last summer. City leaders hoped the complex would breathe new life into the city’s center, and the plan appears to be working. Various new establishments have popped up in the surrounding blocks, including Gaslight Social and Racca’s Pizzeria Napoletana.
But some feel that the revitalization effort has come at the expense of other neighborhoods.
“The city is so focused on the downtown area,” said Todd Sheppard, the owner of the recently closed Shifters. “People tend to forget things on the west side of town.” The former hamburger joint, located along CY Avenue, shut down last month after Sheppard realized it was no longer lucrative enough to justify the time it took away from his family. It was the right decision, but not an easy one, he said.
Sheppard opened Shifters five years ago, but the space has been in his family for decades. His father, Bob Sheppard, opened an A&W Restaurant on the spot in 1954.
The father and son sat at a table inside the establishment last Thursday, surrounded by stacked chairs and packed up boxes. They sorted through various memorabilia, including photos from celebrations at the restaurant and a brown polyester server’s uniform leftover from the 1960s.
The pair said they opted to close quietly because they weren’t up for socializing or answering questions.
“It was a sad day,” explained Bob Sheppard, adding that he has endless fond memories of the business.
TJ’s Bar and Grill, a 23-year-old establishment on CY Avenue, has also lost “quite a bit” of customers since downtown’s revitalization, according to manager Kristi Lockard. While she agrees it’s important to keep the city’s center in good condition, the manager said other areas are being neglected.
City Manager Carter Napier said he understands all areas of the community could benefit from revitalization efforts, but said the city can’t work on every section of Casper at the same time.
“It’s kind of a rotation ... It just happens to be that redevelopment is [now] taking place in the downtown area, which hadn’t happened in quite some time,” he explained.
Gilda Lara, executive director for the Casper Area Chamber of Commerce, previously told the Star-Tribune that the agency hoped new dining and drinking establishments would add vitality to the city, which would encourage residents to go out more and enjoy the town. This could be beneficial for older businesses and new ones, she explained.
And some local entrepreneurs agree with that idea.
“There’s definitely been a big push for the downtown, but I don’t necessary think that’s bad,” said Bernard Ambrosino, owner of Silver Fox restaurant on Energy Lane.
A thriving downtown is good for the city as a whole, he explained, adding that his clientele has expanded in recent years.
The restaurant business is just tough in general, according to Ted Klatt, the general manager of J’s Pub & Grill on Southwest Wyoming Boulevard.
Drawing customers to the west side of town can be challenging, but Klatt said their establishment makes it work by offering plenty of dining options and frequently changing up the menu to keep diners coming back.
Mayor Kenyne Humphrey previously told the Star-Tribune that she considers revitalization and expansion efforts downtown to be among City Council’s greatest accomplishments.
A city’s dying if its center isn’t growing, she explained.
Todd Sheppard doesn’t blame Casper officials for wanting to spruce up downtown. But he hopes city leaders will remember that the west side could also benefit from renovations and publicity.
Katie King covers the city of Casper.