The western edge of Cheyenne’s downtown features older, run down, and in some cases abandoned buildings. The rest of the historic downtown features a mix of remodeled older buildings and some that could use an upgrade. To address all of this Cheyenne has embarked on what’s called the West Edge plan.
Cheyenne Planning Services Director Matt Ashby said the city has an effort that could eventually lead to modernizing the downtown and to make the capitol city a player on the Front Range.
“We realized that we needed to make a big move in order to realize large scale investment in downtown Cheyenne.”
Over the years the city has seen economic development growth, but people have been dissatisfied with the downtown as whole. While it has restaurants and coffee shops, it does not have the appeal many would like to see.
It also lacks something other revitalized western communities, such as Fort Collins and Bozeman have, that’s younger people populating the downtown area. Part of the problem was a storm water drainage area that was overwhelmed in 1985 and led to a massive flood. Ashby said that’s clearly something they needed to address.
“We discovered that downtown would get flooded during storm events and personally as an investor, if I was thinking of investing in a property, I’d be very concerned about investing in an area that might be flooded.”
Areas in the flood plain could lead to contamination, so they got an Environmental Protection Agency Brownfields grant to address that. Ashby said the city plans to create parks and green space where the storm water runoff could safely go.
“To create places where people want to be. And that will attract businesses and ultimately one of the things that Cheyenne needs is residential development. “
EPA Regional Administrator Shaun McGrath said that he thinks the city’s plan is brilliant. He says they’ve been involved in similar projects in other states and it leads to good things.
“New investments, jobs, economic vitality, to an area that has been somewhat blighted or abandoned.”
McGrath was attending a function where a handful of investors from the region listened as the city pitched the project. As Ashby mentioned earlier, the hope is that someone will develop a downtown residential property that could also convince businesses to set up shop downtown. Most of the potential investors listened quietly. Mary Hashem is with the Enviro Finance Group in Colorado, an organization that specializes in projects like this one. While she likes Cheyenne’s plan, she said there are challenges.
“Private financing is a big one. Finding the dollars, finding the investment of private capital, because often time’s banks, and credit, and traditional sources of financing will be loath to come into an area that is just beginning to turn.”
Hashem said that if you can just get that first project started, it can snowball. She said millennials want to live and work in downtown areas, so if the community really wants to modernize, this plan is perfect. But the question remains will people invest?
Cheyenne businessman John Dineen is very optimistic. The building that housed his family automobile dealership since 1927 has led to the creation of a bar and grill on the site and other businesses are on the way. He says a hotel will be built next to his property and other ideas are also being pondered.
“It seems to me that of the people we have talked with about possible space in the building we’re trying to do, we certainly have interest from companies that are watching what’s going on and think things may take off and have things in mind that could really happen.”
Ashby said that the city is prepared to offer incentives, but the best they can do now is remain hopeful.
“Do people actually want to live in downtown Cheyenne and can we prove that? That doesn’t happen until you have a brick and mortar project to point to.”
Ashby and others say this may take several years, but they say it could be a game changer for Cheyenne and Wyoming.