While Casper leaders ultimately approved the recent sale of two, city-owned buildings, they did not give permission for them to go to bid, drawing ire from some residents.
“It appears there was no clear direction provided by Council to sell these properties,” said Brandon Daigle, the chairman of the Downtown Development Authority. After reviewing recordings of Council’s work sessions and meetings, Daigle said he only saw Council instruct city employees to have the properties appraised.
This was a point of particular contention, given that a conference center consortium, of which Daigle is a member, made a last-minute plea to City Council to reject the bids and save the location to potentially develop a roughly $70 million hotel and conference center.
The buildings, which are located on Ash Street north of Midwest Avenue, include the former Ka-Lark’s gymnastics studio and the former Milo’s Toyota body shop.
The structures were part of the Plains Furniture property block, which also included a former livery stable that has not yet received a bid. City officials purchased the properties in early 2016 with no exact plans for their use.
Mayor Kenyne Humphrey confirmed Friday that City Council did not direct city employees to put the buildings up for sale.
“I think that there was some confusion on staff part on whether or not we even wanted to go out for bid on those properties,” she said.
Once Council realized the buildings were for sale, they opted not to halt the process because they felt it would be unfair to those who had already placed bids, explained Humphrey.
City Manager Carter Napier said Thursday that he is unsure whether staff needed Council’s authorization to place the building’s for sale, but said he is investigating the issue.
“I am looking into it to see if, in fact, we did follow the typical process,” he explained. If city staff is found to be a fault, Napier said he is uncertain at this point what action would be taken.
The city issued the request for proposals on Sept. 6, according to a memo from Community Development Director Liz Becher.
The future of the city-owned Ash Street buildings has been a divisive issue in Casper.
A public hearing was held Tuesday prior to Council’s vote, and many residents spoke out in favor of the local entrepreneurs hoping to bring an apparel store and new apartments to downtown Casper.
But the consortium has repeatedly advised Council to hold off on the decision, and to consider the lasting economic impact a new hotel and conference center could have on the city.
The consortium includes representatives from the Downtown Development Authority, Casper Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Amoco Reuse Agreement Joint Powers Board and the Economic Development Joint Powers Board/Forward Casper.
City Council was split on the decision, with five members voting to sell the buildings and three voting against.
Scott Cotton, a co-owner of 1890 Inc., won the bid for the former gymnastic studio. Cotton previously explained that his custom apparel store needs a larger space to meet customer demands.
David Kelley, the owner of Ashby Construction, won the bid for the former body shop. He intends to use the building as office space for his own business and then build three structures next to it to rent out as apartments.