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Deputy Sheriff Jay Snider prepares documents for a public foreclosure auction in the entryway of the Natrona County Courthouse Thursday morning. The Parkway Plaza hotel was sold at public auction for $15.5 million to the GreenLake Real Estate Fund.

City officials have long debated the value of building a conference center in Casper. Multiple studies have shown that the addition of a hotel and conference center would be an economic boon for the city, bringing visitors from around the state and the country.

But the project has repeatedly failed to get off the ground. Just this year, the conference center consortium approached the Casper City Council about earmarking several plots of land downtown for the project – but the Council had already decided to sell the plots to local entrepreneurs.

There were also concerns that a publically funded project would take business from other hotels in town – notably the Parkway Plaza, which was touted often as a place that could serve the same needs as a conference center.

But the Parkway has long been struggling – the demands of the aging building and dwindling business among the key obstacles. The hotel has struggled for years to return to its former glory. In October, it closed for renovations and laid off 50 employees. Then it went through a foreclosure auction, where the lender bid $15.5 million for it.

With the Parkway shuttered, now would be the perfect time for city officials to reopen the discussion about a downtown conference center, a venture that past City Councils unfortunately balked at.

Casper is centrally located, and it is the second largest city in Wyoming. The economic opportunities that would come with building a conference center here are abundant. Just consider the economic boon from major sporting events, like the CNFR and the statewide high school tournaments. When visitors come to Casper, they spend money on food, entertainment, hotels. They often buy goods they can’t find in smaller Wyoming towns.

Imagine if that spending happened throughout the year, rather than just during major sporting events. A conference center could be the answer.

There are plenty of options for where to locate a conference center and hotel, though we think a downtown location would serve the city best. The David Street Station would be the perfect neighbor year round. Visitors could take advantage of the beautiful space and enjoy the many events hosted there throughout the summer or the ice skating rink in winter. And then head to one of the many local eateries, bars or coffee shops afterwards.

Local leaders have worked hard to boost economic development efforts – we’ve seen that work pay off in the city center. They should keep the momentum going and start prioritizing plans to get a conference center project underway. Casper has become a more desirable city in the past decade and a new venue would help to continue that track record of success.

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