The redevelopment of downtown Casper has so far been a big success. The city’s core has new life, new businesses and new attractions. Gone are the days when downtown would be half empty at night or on the weekends. Now, families play at David Street Station, couples meet at the new bars and restaurants and tourists peruse the shops.
And by the end of the year, a big hole in downtown will finally be filled. The popular steakhouse Rib & Chop House will open in the former Wonder Bar, which has been vacant since its current owners closed it down in February.
Still, more works remains. There has been a strip of redevelopment along Ash Street, turning empty warehouses into a hub for local nightlife. And David Street had undergone a transformation with the arrival of the David Street Station plaza, along with new businesses and a stunning mural.
But between those two streets remain vacant buildings that separate the areas of redevelopment, making them feel more like separate projects than part of a grander effort. Most notably, there is the former Plains Furniture building, which houses within its walls an older car dealership and garage.
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The city bought the building in 2016 for slightly more than $3 million – more than the appraised value – giving the municipality control over how the block developed. Officials had initially planned to build a parking lot there, but after the older buildings were found hidden inside the Plains, the city changed course. It’s already sold two parcels on the block and appeared close to selling the third – the biggest component – to private developers. Those developers proposed an $8 million project featuring new housing and office space.
The project seems like just what downtown needs. It will bring more residents to the city’s core, which will in turn benefit businesses in the area and add to the growing vitality. But the plan has hit a snag. The City Council voted against the sale earlier this month, with several members concerned that the developers weren’t paying enough for the remaining property, which is valued at more than $1 million. The deal rejected by the City Council was for roughly $500,000.
On the surface, it might seem sensible for the City Council to balk at the price. But there are extenuating circumstances. First, there is little indication that the market for the building extends much beyond the one development group with a proposal on the table. It doesn’t matter how much the city thinks a building might be worth. If there is only one buyer, than that buyer has leverage to set the price.
Moreover, the city needs to make this deal to see its larger plans realized. Right now, the vacant buildings between Ash and David Streets are limiting the success of the effort by making it feel less like one cohesive redevelopment project and more like a smattering of work.
The city has made huge progress when it comes to its downtown. Now is not the time to be penny wise, pound foolish. Given the market, the city might have to view the price it paid for the building as a sunk cost. But failing to move forward would be a bigger mistake than when it apparently overpaid for the Plains.