The Casper City Council voted last week to sell the former Plains Furniture properties between David and Ash streets to local developers Brandon Daigle and Kevin Hawley.
The council chambers were nearly full at the Tuesday night meeting, with residents eager to hear how their elected officials would proceed with the controversial property they voted not to sell last month.
The proposed project is an $8 million mixed-use development, with residential and commercial units available for purchase. Flag Development, the developer behind the project, is estimating it will have an annual economic impact of $6.5 million, between sales and property taxes and the money downtown’s new residents will spend on area businesses.
The council defeated the sale last month in a tied vote, with Councilman Steve Freel abstaining. The sticking point was the price. The developers hoping to buy the properties had offered $500,000 after reworking an earlier bid that offered $1 million. The properties included in the sale have been valued at about $1.4 million.
Not all of the council members were happy with the low price, but with no other bidders, the proposal was tentatively approved at work sessions and regular meetings in the months leading up to the final vote. At the last minute, however, a few council members pivoted and voted down selling the property for the $500,000 price.
The council decided to reconsider the vote at the work session following that meeting and cast their final votes. All but Councilman Kenneth Bates, who has been against the purchase price since the issue began, voted in favor of the sale. Councilman Steve Freel was absent but has abstained throughout the process, citing a conflict of interest.
“I’ve said from the get go, I love the idea ... but I’ve been against the sales price, to take a loss of more than $900,000,” Bates said.
He said he understands what the project “could” do for the city, stressing the “could,” but that the benefits the developers are promising aren’t guarantees. He added he didn’t think the city would get as much as the properties were appraised for but thought it could fetch more than $500,000.
But the rest of council, including those who voted against the sale at the last meeting, advocated for the potential the project has and the need to put the longtime vacant buildings into the hands of private developers.
“You have to look at this as an opportunity,” Councilman Bob Hopkins said. Hopkins previously called the development a watershed project.
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“A little seed money here and there will go a long way to make downtown a better place,” Hopkins added.
The issue has received substantial public attention, with a slew of residents either speaking at council meetings or writing their council members urging a particular vote.
Justin Farley, CEO of Advance Casper (formerly the Casper Area Economic Development Alliance), wrote a letter on behalf of his group’s board members in support of the city selling the Plains buildings.
“As council may recall, there was similar negative and unsubstantiated opposition to David Street Station when it was originally presented,” Farley’s letter reads. “The Nolan Project is the right sequel to David Street Station.”
“We feel the proposed design and architecture will add to the appeal and desirability of the downtown by young millennial professionals, a demographic Casper needs to inspire and retain,” the letter continues.
Farley also spoke briefly at Tuesday night’s meeting in support of selling the Plains property.
A number of downtown businesses submitted a letter to council as well.
“The undersigned members of the downtown business community are disappointed and frustrated at the outcome of the vote to not finalize the sale of the Plains Furniture Building,” that letter reads. “... The original sales price is only the cost of admission for this full development. This development group is fully prepared to spend upwards of $8,000,000 on this revitalization project. We do not think there is another entity, public or private, that is willing to invest this level of capital into this property now, or in the future.”
The letter had 23 signatures, representing 19 downtown businesses. The first signatory on that letter, John Griffith, who owns Urban Bottle with his wife, read the letter for the council Tuesday. During his time before the council, Griffith asked those in the room in favor of selling the former Plains properties to stand up. Most of those in the crowded council chambers stood.
There were still residents opposed to the sale price. Ultimately, though, the project’s potential won out.
Follow local government reporter Morgan Hughes on Twitter @morganhwrites