Eclipse Wonder Bar

Wonder Bar bustles with the eclipse festival crowd Saturday afternoon in downtown Casper. Wonder Bar and The Gaslight Social both opened in the days leading up to the festival.

Alan Rogers, Star-Tribune

Several years ago, Casper City Council embarked on a plan to revitalize Casper’s downtown.

At the time, some observers questioned whether officials should spend time and money in an effort to bring more development to the city’s core.

Casper was sprawling, and many of the new developments were near the residential areas on the east and west sides of the city. It made sense that people might prefer to do their shopping or grab a bite to eat near where they lived.

But Council leaders wisely saw that the city’s downtown is a gem – that it might not be quite as convenient as a quick jaunt into a big-box store on the city’s outskirts but that with some work and investment, people would see the area as a place to go. Already, stalwart businesses — the ones that form the foundation for today’s success — formed the core. Now, people just needed more variety and options. They would plan an afternoon or an evening around it, knowing it would have all the entertainment options they would need. It would be a destination for families and friends to spend time together.

And that’s what it has become. This has been in the works for a long time, as earlier newcomers like Racca’s Pizzeria Napoletana and the Urban Bottle liquor store settled in. It became abundantly clear during eclipse weekend, when thousands of people gathered at the new David Street Station, ordered food and drinks at the new restaurants and breweries – some of which opened just days before the eclipse – and milled about our newly vibrant downtown. And that will only improve next year, as the remainder of the new public plaza is finished and more development is set to take place.

It’s incredibly heartening to see these businesses deciding that downtown Casper is their future. We thank these entrepreneurs for seeing its potential and choosing to invest there.

It’s just as exciting to see residents and visitors responding, telling the business owners with their patronage that yes, this is Casper’s future, and it is bright. Young adults and families were out in droves over eclipse weekend and on the evenings since – exactly the type of people our state often loses as they pursue greater economic opportunity and more vibrant lifestyles elsewhere.

No one deserves more credit for this transformation than our city officials. Their foresight and planning made this happen. By consciously choosing to focus on the downtown area, they steered its transformation into a community hub that’s sparkling with activity and investment, even when revenues from other sectors – such as Wyoming’s signature energy industries — have dropped off.

That benefits us all. With a thriving downtown area – one where people want to be and one in which entrepreneurs want to invest – Casper is strongly positioned for now and well into the future. Our city should be very grateful to the officials and the entrepreneurs who put us on that path.

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