There are four official “opportunity zones” in Casper — and one local organization is asking the City Council for $10,000 to promote these areas to potential investors.
“We want to get investors to invest in these areas so they can improve the quality of life for the residents who live there,” said Sabrina Foreman, the vice president of business development for the Casper Area Economic Development Association.
The association, which annually receives about $400,000 in public funds, works to bring new businesses to Casper and help existing businesses improve their profitability.
According to the Internal Revenue Service’s website, an opportunity zone is an economically distressed community where new investments may be eligible for preferential tax treatment. This designation was created by the Tax Cuts and Job Act on Dec. 22, 2017.
The four zones in Casper are: the core downtown area and Old Yellowstone District; the Platte River commons area; northwestern Casper and northern Mills; and West Casper and Mills.
Foreman said Thursday that a wide variety of investments would qualify, including real estate ventures or a new startup. These projects would ideally improve the area by offering new services, living options or job opportunities.
A hotel and convention center is one possible option, Foreman added.
“We’ve talked about the hotel and convention center for a long time and with the Parkway not being operational currently,” she said, “... we’ve lost all those rooms and that convention space.”
The Parkway Plaza, a Casper hotel that was often used as a conference center, closed for renovations Oct. 31 and was sold in December. The facility’s future is unclear.
The association is currently promoting Casper’s opportunity zones on a new website, OpportunityCasper.com. But if CAEDA secured more funding, Foreman said they would like to use the services of a consulting firm as well.
Foreman said Casper has a strong potential to attract many investors.
“There’s new restaurants downtown; we’ve got a great ski lodge and biathlon trails and world class fishing,” she said. “… We have a lot to offer, and I think with our new developments, (investors) will see from the outside that we are investing in ourselves, which will make them more apt to want to invest in us as well.”
City Manager Carter Napier mentioned CAEDA’s request at the City Council’s Tuesday work session. Council members were supportive of the idea and said they would further discuss the matter later this month.
“I think it’s a good investment and a good, sound idea,” said Councilman Ray Pacheco.
In order to qualify as an opportunity zone, the IRS website states that areas must be nominated by state officials. These nominations must then be certified by the Secretary of the U.S. Treasury.
In a previous press release from CAEDA, Jerad Stack — a member of the Endow Executive Council — voiced support for the creation of opportunity zones.
“Giving investors a federal tax incentive to invest in the region is a great way to encourage that investment,” he said. “The opportunity zones in Casper are uniquely attractive as they encompass investment-ready areas like the downtown core and the industrial western side of town.”