Casper, Mills and Natrona County have each agreed to provide $10,000 to help an economic development group promote four local “opportunity zones” to potential investors.
“They all gave (the request) a thumbs up,” Sabrina Foreman, the vice president of business development for the Casper Area Economic Development Association, said Monday. “They were very supportive.”
An opportunity zone is an economically distressed community where new investments may be eligible for preferential tax treatment. This designation was created by the 2017 Republican-led tax cuts.
The four local zones are: the core Casper downtown area and Old Yellowstone District; the Platte River commons area; northwestern Casper and northern Mills; and West Casper and Mills.
The economic development association asked for funding from local governments earlier this year so the organization could hire a new employee to focus on finding investors. The Casper City Council discussed the matter at a work session and will formally vote on the request at Tuesday’s meeting.
Casper Mayor Charlie Powell said Monday that the City Council believes the project is a worthwhile endeavor.
“The likelihood that you will get dollars invested in these areas will be increased considerably if we have someone who is focused on that particular job,” he said. “The person that’s hired for this position will play a key role in getting fund managers to look at Casper.”
Foreman said last month 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 also a possible option.
“We’ve talked about the hotel and convention center for a long time and with the Parkway not being operational currently,” Foreman said, “... we’ve lost all those rooms and that convention space.”
The Parkway Plaza, a Casper hotel that also served as a conference center, closed for renovations Oct. 31 and was sold in December. The facility’s future is unclear.
Powell and Foreman both believe 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,” Foreman said last month. “… 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.”
In order for an area to qualify as an opportunity zone, it must be nominated by state officials, according to the IRS. These nominations must then be certified by the Secretary of the U.S. Treasury.