CASPER, Wyo. — Should they so choose, the Casper City Council has the option to bring the sale of the former Plains Furniture building and adjacent properties back up for another vote.
At their last meeting, an agreement with FLAG Development, LLC stalled out on a 4-4 tie vote to authorize a purchase agreement.
During their Tuesday, Oct. 22 work session, the city council discussed the possibility of taking the sale up for a second vote.
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Councilman Bob Hopkins asked whether the issue could be brought forward again. He said he’s heard from a number of constituents that thought the vote last Tuesday was more of a formality and that the sale was a “done deal.”
They’ll reconsider it on November 5.
Both Vice Mayor Shawn Johnson and Councilwoman Khrystyn Lutz asked constituents on Facebook whether they should have voted differently. Both voted against authorizing the purchase agreement.
“I wanted to chat about my ‘no’ vote on the sale of the Plains building,” Lutz wrote. “First, I want to make it clear that I think FLAG’s vision for the property is amazing. I love that they went with ‘The Nolan’ for the name.”
“I feel strongly that those of you who voted for me, did so in part because of my strong Accounting/Finance background. I feel it is my obligation to be a steward of Taxpayer’s money. I could not in good faith allow an approximate $2 million dollar loss to the Taxpayers.”
She nevertheless asked whether constituents would like to see the properties sold or if they preferred a different outcome.
“Do you want us to get the property re-appraised (to a more realistic figure) and go through the RFP process again with a reserve requirement?” she asked “(Understand that the City will inevitably take some amount of loss on this sale regardless) In that case, what amount of a loss are we willing to ‘stomach’?”
“Do you want us to explore using this property as some type of city asset? (parking lot, park, future home of a city building, etc.) (This mitigates a direct financial loss but results in a high cost for such a project).”
“Or, do you think I made a mistake by voting no and that this sale should have been approved? If so, how do I justify a $2 million dollar loss to the taxpayers of Casper? (That is a genuine question, not being sarcastic).”
Johnson posed a similar question to his constituents.
“I was one of the no votes because we were selling the property for approximately 25% of its appraised value,” he wrote. “I think the idea for the new development was great and I think Flag construction is a good company with good and well intentioned people with a great idea for the property, I just have a hard time taking a $2 million dollar loss.”
“Some will say that it’s not a loss but rather an investment in downtown development that will pay off in tax collections and spur more growth. While that is true, there is no telling how long it would take to see that $2 million loss break even.”
Johnson said he was open to hearing people’s views and discussing the matter further.
“In my mind it would have been a project financed with $2 million in taxpayer dollars for private benefit,” he said. “I am open to meeting with people who have an interest in this and am in the works on setting up some meetings.”
“I want to know what your thoughts are on this. Is it worth the $2 million deficit to sell off to a private developer? Is it worth holding onto for a bit longer? What would you do?”
Both Johnson and Lutz received multiple replies to their inquiries. While some suggest the two were right to vote no on the purchase agreement, the majority of those commenting said they would have liked to have seen the sale go through.
Those opposed pointed to the low sale price.
Those in favor pointed to benefits they think the development would have brought to Casper’s downtown. Some added that the city stands to gain significant sales tax revenue from having more people living in the downtown as well as a boost in property tax collections.
One asked Lutz not to simplify the issue by over-focusing on the price FLAG would pay for the properties.
Attracting affordable housing development to the downtown area is a part of the 2019 goals council set for itself in April.