Representatives of Cercy Family Holdings, a local family owned company currently renovating the historic Wonder Bar in downtown Casper, have presented the idea of an outdoor bump patio in front of the building.
The city has received a request from Cercy Investments LLC to remove five public diagonal-parking spaces to create a private outdoor seating area for the Wonder Bar on South Center Street. During a City Council work session on Tuesday, council members heard from River Valley Builders’ Brandon Daigle, presenting the plans for the building. After discussing the heavily altered floor plans for both the ground floor and upstairs bars, which will sport separate menus, Daigle discussed the patio.
During the presentation, representatives from the C85 at Wonder Bar project showed examples of private patio uses in other cities in the United States, with Daigle saying that in every out-of-state example provided, a local law had to be changed.
Casper City Attorney Bill Luben raised concerns about the extension. Luben saying that his interpretation of state law was such that the actual street would have to be vacated, as it is currently for use by the public as a street. Councilperson Chris Walsh admitted that while the idea was neat, he was also concerned about potential consequences.
“If we illegally vacate a street, what happens?” Walsh asked.
City Attorney Luben answered that he believed the city could face a potential lawsuit, specifically from landowners within 300 feet of the vacation. Luben said that such a lawsuit could mean that the vacation, and any lease sought by the Wonder Bar could be set aside.
The Wonder Bar site is flanked by a sushi restaurant on one side, and a state office building on the other. Officials with the C85 at Wonder Bar project said that they had attempted to contact owners at the sushi restaurant, but were unable to do so. “There was a communication problem,” Daigle said.
Councilperson Amanda Huckabay addressed council saying that she wanted to see letters of support from the building owners on either side of the Wonder Bar, before considering voting in favor of the street vacation and patio proposal. Saying that she wanted to make sure that the interests of smaller business owners were addressed.
Enthusiastically supporting the project was new Casper City Councilperson Dallas Laird. He was sure to express his position that “a one-size fits all city” was not attractive to him. “I’ve seen it done all over the country,” Laird said of the patio project. “Excellent idea, wonderful idea.” While Laird outlined other examples from around the country, he also said later in the meeting that “we have to run our own city.”
Alternatives to the plan were discussed by Council, as well. Councilperson Charlie Powell mentioning the upcoming Frontier Brewing, who created an outdoor seating area, by putting recessing a large garage door, behind the facade of the building.
Also discussed was the idea of 2nd Street or Center, possibly becoming a pedestrian thoroughfare and gathering place like 16th Street in Denver or Pearl Street in Boulder.
City Attorney Luben did point out that certain allowances have been made on street and sidewalk use. These allowances, however, have traditionally been used only for sandwich boards and other signage. However a recent dust up between neighboring businesses, regarding the placement of a community art piano on East Second Street, was mentioned as an example of the potential difficulties facing a vacation or exceptional use for sidewalks and streets.
Ultimately, the council decided to shelve the issue until such a time as several issues could be researched and addressed, including issues with state law on public streets, possible alternatives, solutions found in communities with similar establishments, and several council members expressed a desire to see letters of support from one or both neighboring properties.
Later in the meeting, following a discussion of if Council should consider imposing time limits on comments during Public Hearings, Laird attempted to revisit the issue. Laird asking the council to take an informal vote on the issue, saying “we allow them to do it as long as it’s lawful, and as long as the neighbors agree.”
“That’s what we’re working on,” replied councilperson Shawn Johnson.
“I know,” said Laird. “I’d like to just say that. Is that something you’re against?”
The council declined to take an informal poll at that time, and moved on to a discussion on board appointments.
Editor’s Note: We would like to acknowledge that the owner of Oil City, Shawn Houck, also has a professional interest as part-owner of Frontier Brewing Company. Houck had no input, editorial or otherwise, in this story.