Hundreds of acres of land on the edge of Riverton begun a transformation from open agriculture fields to what one Wyoming tribe hopes will become a bustling area for businesses and residents.
The Eastern Shoshone Tribe hopes a new business park development in Riverton that will include retail, light industrial, housing and recreational space leads to more revenue for tribal government and services for its citizens.
The tribe broke ground on the more than 300-acre business park in May on land it acquired in Riverton between Walmart and the Wyoming Honor Farm. Eventually, tribal leaders hope the former farmland helps contribute to the well-being of the tribe and its members.
While initial work has included basic infrastructure like roads, the business park, according to its approximately 20-year master plan, will include large retail buildings, spaces for small businesses and light industrial manufacturing, hotels, storage, multi-family housing, stables and an arena, senior housing and recreation areas.
Eastern Shoshone Business Council Co-Chairman Leslie Shakespeare said the purpose of developing the land is “to diversify our income streams for tribal government so we can provide new services for our tribal members.”
The tribe plans to initially develop about 50 acres as part of the first phases of the project.
Businesses that want to locate to the business park would be able to take advantage of the New Market Tax Credit Program, he said, adding that they also hope a new a group of community leaders chooses the business park as the site for a new nonprofit hospital.
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While the park could serve as a new economic tool for the tribe and its programs, Shakespeare said it could also serve as a job creator for tribal citizens, 60 percent of whom are under the age of 25 and are part of – or will be entering – the workforce.
Still, he said many tribal members were skeptical of the plan at first because it was in a city about 45 minutes away from places on the Wind River Reservation like Fort Washakie or Crowheart, where most Eastern Shoshone citizens live.
He said complicated reservation and federal government bureaucracy made it easier for the tribe to build outside of the reservation.
But Shakespeare said the tribe is looking at solutions, like a transportation program, for any tribal members who work at the new business park and have to commute from the reservation.
Many — but not all — Eastern Shoshone citizens have now come around to support the project after understanding that it will take years for the business park really take shape, he said.
“Getting them to understand this is a project that’s going to take several years to develop … has been one of our biggest obstacles,” Shakespeare said.
Going ahead with the project has required the tribe to work with Riverton city government to properly zone the project. Shakespeare said the city has been a great partner in the project.
Hopefully, Shakespeare said, the business park also acts as a way to foster better understanding between a reservation border town like Riverton and the tribes.
“We see this ... as a way we can work together and show that the future can be a good one as long as you have an open mind,” he said.
Follow reporter Chris Aadland on Twitter @cjaadland