A $45 million project to construct a new state office building in downtown Casper will get underway this summer — and a handful of local business owners are being displaced as a result.
“This is going to hurt us,” said Megan Schafer, co-owner of K & M Pet Products.
Schafer was speaking Monday at a public meeting held by the project’s Task Force at City Hall. The meeting’s purpose was to share information with citizens and solicit feedback.
The 110,000-square-foot state building will be located on an 11-acre plot at 444 West Collins Dr., about a block west of Ash Street. Buildings that already exist within this plot, such as the one Schafer leases space from, will be demolished.
“You’re taking something from the community that you can’t replace,” said Schafer, explaining that the site is a prime location for small retail business owners.
Lisa Engebretsen, the owner of Forefront Real Estate, said she’s also upset her business has to find a new locale and accused those involved with the project of not being upfront with the public.
“It’s all been a secret,” she said.
Engebretsen explained that she’s invested about $20,000 fixing up her business space. Although she has not yet been told to vacate, she’s already begun looking for a new location.
“It’s proving to be very difficult,” she added.
Members of the Task Force, which is co-chaired by Natrona County Republicans Sen. Bill Landen and Rep. Tom Walters, said the state has been openly discussing the project for years. But nothing was certain until funding was approved at the end of the last legislative session.
Landen said Tuesday that it was regrettable that the project is negatively affecting some community members. However, the senator believes the new building will ultimately be a great asset for Casper.
The three-story structure will consolidate multiple departments, including the Department of Workforce Services, the Department of Family Services and the Department of Environmental Quality.
“It will be a great benefit for the citizens to have all of those state functions in one area,” he said.
Lyle Murtha, the president of Stateline No. 7 architectural firm — which is in charge of construction — explained at the meeting that demolition on the site’s existing structures will begin this summer. Construction on the new building will start next summer, and the project should be completed by 2021.
Murtha said the new building will include parking spaces and lawn areas for potential future growth. The exterior design will be “modern” and “governmental.”
He added that the project shouldn’t be particularly challenging.
“This is probably less complex than [constructing] a high school,” he said.
Although the project’s price tag might give some pause, members of the Task Force explained that no taxpayer dollars will be used. The state has been saving for the new building for years and is relying on money from the permanent mineral trust fund.
The next public meeting on the new state building is slated for June 13 at City Hall.