Parkway Plaza closure puts pressure on Casper’s limited convention space market

The Parkway Plaza, built in 1966, has been closed by its owners as of Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2018. (Dan Cepeda, Oil City)

Wyoming Crafters Guild organizer Trish McDaniel visited the Parkway Plaza Hotel and Convention Center on Wednesday to prepare the ballroom for the upcoming craft fair she had spent weeks planning.

Days earlier she had secured the space with a $1,100 check to house the fair that runs this weekend to raise money for the Casper Humane Society.

“At 2:30 that afternoon they called and told me that they were closing their doors,” said McDaniel.

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Parkway Plaza employees found out about the closure on Wednesday morning, according to the Parkway’s sales manager Tabitha Overgard. Around 50 people, the majority of the hotel’s staff, were laid off that day.

Overgard and a small staff of employees were busy cleaning and taking care other duties on Thursday morning as they prepared to close the large building.

The closure comes after the hotel’s sale to “a national company,” according to Overgard. The company along with any details on the sale have not been disclosed, even to Overgard.

Overgard says the new owners plan on reopening the property by next April. A small skeleton crew will stay onsite to secure the building, she said.

The lobby of the Parkway Plaza is seen on Thursday, Nov. 1, 2018, one day after the sudden closure of the hotel and convention center. (Dan Cepeda, Oil City)

With 42,000 square feet of convention space, the Parkway Plaza was by far Casper’s largest convention venue.

“There is an immediate need to find venues to absorb what events they had scheduled,” said Reneé Penton Jones, general manager at the Ramkota Hotel. The Ramkota offers the most space after the Parkway, with 15,000 square feet.

“Unfortunately because a lot of us already have short term business booked, there may be a need for some of those groups to go out of town over the next six months,” said Jones. “We hate to lose business out of town because it’s hard to get them to come back.”

Jones says room occupancy rates are just over 50 percent in Casper, so she doesn’t see an issue there.

However, the loss of all that conference space will be felt. “We’ve identified for a long time that there’s a need for updated conference space,” said Jones. “Depending on what happens to the Parkway, what is the community going to do to find meeting space that will accommodate groups and conventions coming in.”

The Parkway was originally built as a Ramada Inn and opened in the spring of 1966. It was one of the first modern luxury hotels built after WWII in Casper. Its location near the planned I-25 freeway made it a prime spot and helped usher the demise of Casper’s traditional downtown hotels.

A photo of a model of the new Ramada Inn is pictured in an April 1964 article in the Casper Evening Tribune. The Ramada Inn opened early 1966 and was eventually renamed the Parkway Plaza.

Over sixty-years on, the building’s owners have struggled with upkeep.

“When I was at the Parkway there were infrastructure issues back then,” said Jones, who managed the Parkway before 2010 when its then-owners filed for bankruptcy.

Jones said the company spent $90,000 on some cosmetic updates at the time. “There are infrastructure issues that I know a new owner will have to address,” said Jones. Those include expensive items such as HVAC, roof, sprinkler and plumbing systems.

“It’s such a massive building it’ll require a substantial amount of money,” said Jones.

“Some of our convention facilities are tired,” said Brook Kaufman, CEO with the Casper Area Visitors and Convention Bureau. “We are more limited than we have been in the past due to the condition of some of the facilities.”

Kaufman said the bureau commissioned a market demand study this year to get an idea of how a new convention center would affect Casper’s market.

“That study did say that it would induce demand,” said Kaufman, but the amount would be relatively small.

According to Kaufman, while new hotel rooms have been built over the past couple of decades to meet demand, developers have shied away from building new convention and meeting space.

“We’re a seasonal market,” said Kaufman, which the Visitor’s Bureau has been trying to address.

After a flurry of phone calls and stress, McDaniel was able to secure last minute space at the Ramada Riverside for her craft fair, which starts this Friday and continues through Saturday. After securing her new space Thursday morning, she has been busy calling the participating sellers and trying to get word out on the location change.

“They really put me in a bind,” said McDaniel, who was promised a refund from the Parkway but isn’t sure when that will happen.

“If they don’t pay me back, I won’t be able to pay the crafters back unless I pay out of my own pocket.”

The Parkway Plaza is seen after its closure on Nov. 1, 2018. (Dan Cepeda, Oil City)

A note announcing the Parkway Plaza’s closure is posted on the front door on Thursday, Nov. 1, 2018. (Dan Cepeda, Oil City)

Rod Hopkins examines a pair of binoculars at the Astro-Physics booth in the vendor section during the 2017 AstroCon on Friday, Aug. 19, 2017, at the Parkway Plaza in Casper. The AstroCon convention is organized by the Astronomical League, which brings enthusiasts together for presentations and speakers. The convention was held in Casper for the eclipse on Monday. (Dan Cepeda, Oil City)

Enthusiasts look through telescopes set up in the Parkway Plaza courtyard during AstroCon on Aug. 19, 2017, in Casper. (Dan Cepeda, Oil City)