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The Casper Artists' Guild will celebrate its 90th anniversary by moving into a new home, after the city approved leasing the old Pacific Fruit & Produce Company warehouse Tuesday night.

“Artists need to be encouraged, and they need financial support,” Councilman Dan Sandoval said. “I think this is a good investment in Casper.”

The city purchased the 102-year-old building, which sits at Midwest and Ash streets, in October 2012 for $418,000. Recently, the building was split in two parcels to make it easier to market and sell the property.

“When governmental entities get involved in purchasing property for redevelopment, it gets controversial, and there are different views on that,” said Vice Mayor Charlie Powell. “But this is a case where that old fruit warehouse would stay and be an old fruit warehouse for who knows how many years had we not purchased it and marketed it the way we did.”

The guild has been looking at purchasing the building for the last eight months or so, said Executive Director Holly Turner. She said she was hired to start fundraising once the guild decided it was a realistic opportunity.

“This is a wonderful time after a lot of work,” Turner said.

The guild will buy half the building for $200,000 by the end of the year. In the meantime, the lease will give the nonprofit time to renovate the second floor of the warehouse, move in to what members are calling Art 321 and sell its old building.

The move from their smaller east side location will draw more people and open the possibility of events like art walks, Turner said.

“We’ve outgrown the space we’re in. It’s not a very good location; it’s kind of hidden away,” Turner said. “To be in the central heart of Casper is what we are excited about.”

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Over the next couple weeks, the organization will meet with architects and construction firms about how to renovate the 17,000-square-foot space.

The first priority is the 8,000 square feet upstairs, Turner said. The guild hopes to move in by the end of the year.

The warehouse needs heating, cooling and new windows, among other improvements, but the guild intends to leave the building “raw."

“It’s such a strong, solid structure. It’s got great bones, and we want to keep it to a warehouse look,” Turner said. “It is a fabulous place.”

Turner imagines a gift shop selling art from the guild’s 100 or so members, a large exhibition space and studios where the public can watch artists work.

The guild has raised $420,000. Turner said the group needs another $200,000, hopefully through grants, to start renovating.

In the meantime, the city is in talks with a buyer for the 10,000-square-foot space.

“The other half is being looked at by somebody also … but that hasn’t been firmed up,” Turner said. “We’re hoping on the other side our partner will have a restaurant, a brew pub, a coffee house, all those things are being talked about … If it all comes through, it can be a great place.”

The council is expected to consider the sale of the second half of the warehouse in a May council meeting, according to city planners.

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Reach Tom Dixon at 307-266-0616 or tom.dixon@trib.com. Follow him on Twitter: @DixonTrib.

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