Thermopolis Independent Record - Your source for news in Hot Springs County

By Cindy Glasson
Reporter Photographer 

Convention center/resort planned for airport


October 12, 2017

Last week in the Independent Record we touched on the airport re-use alternatives as presented by GDA Engineers during a recent public meeting.

Each of those alternatives were judged by the steering committee before selecting a two-phase final plan that includes a convention center/resort concept as well as re-purposing of the apron, hangars and hangar areas.

By combining the two ideas, the committee realized the community could capitalize on short-term efforts to fill immediate community needs, but not restrict the maximum benefit, best use of the property in the long term.

“The consensus of the steering committee and our (GDA) recommendation is to pursue a dual focus, two stage plan,” said Dusty Spomer with GDA.

The two-stage plan would look something like this: in the short term, say the next 0-5 years, the focus would be on re-purposing the apron area facilities and eliminating any ongoing liabilities to the county.

To that end, there will be demolition to remove all airport buildings with the exception of the two largest hangars and the northern most hangar. All fueling systems formerly used by the airport would also be removed per state and federal requirements.

In addition, all remaining airport navigational items will be removed and all utilities on the property disconnected, as well as reclamation of all disturbed ground back to its natural vegetation. That would include removal of the airstrip with the asphalt recycled to use in patching or paving county roads, saving the county money in the short term. The recycled material could also be sold to others to recoup some costs.

New fencing will also be built to coincide with the property lines to keep unwanted activities from occurring on the property.

Re-purposing of the remaining buildings is part of the short-term phase of the plan as well.

One of the large hangars will be offered to the golf course board, for a minimal annual lease payment, that they could modify into a central operations facility for the course and serve as a single golf cart shed. The existing cart sheds near the pro shop, which is on city property, could then be demolished, allowing for either new landscaping or additional parking.

The other large hangar would be offered to the recreation district. With a minimal lease structure as above, the district could undertake improvements to the structure to create a facility that would support year-round recreational activities such as basketball, volleyball or indoor archery.

The apron area can be re-purposed as well, turning it into a parking area that could be used by the golf course and other tenants using the hangar buildings.

Of course, some variation could be considered as none of the above entities have made a decision whether to pursue the offer or not.

The short-term plan, phase I, is simply maximizing the re-purposing of the existing assets to meet immediate community needs with a minimal financial layout by other entities.

The long-term plan, phase II, would cover the next 5-20 years and bring benefits to the community that would include a larger tax base, more tourist dollars and permanent jobs to the county.

The first step will be marketing the overall property on a national scale to developers or investors interested in the convention center/resort concept.

It is clear the county could not, nor should they be, the developer for the project, but rather leave that investment and work to an entity that specializes in pinpointing and financing resort opportunities like this.

Once the short-term items are in place, or well on their way to being in place, a developer could come in and see the potential in the area, leaving the county in possession of the land as property owners, but creating a long-term lease agreement with a concessionaire.

That lease would be 30 years or more and the county continuing as property owners would allow eligibility for infrastructure or economic development funds both at inception and in perpetuity. Those funds would be in either grants or loans, but there are a multitude of potential sources available, including the U.S. Department of Commerce Economic Development, Wyoming State Lands and Investments Board (SLIB), the Wyoming Business Council or Wyoming’s Large Economic Development Project Loan Program.

Another option with the long term plan would be the outright sale of the property to a developer. The advantage to that would be an increase to the county coffers through property taxes. Currently, because the county owns the property, there are no taxes collected.

“Effectively, this is a best of both worlds approach,” Spomer said. “It allows for immediate, known, and low cost uses to occur without blocking or minimizing the potential, ultimate, highest and best use if that type of developer is eventually found.”

One item that will have to be taken care of as soon as possible is access to the property.

Currently, Airport Road is narrow and sometimes treacherous throughout the winter months, making it a stumbling block to the entire plan.

Gaining a right-of-way through adjacent properties to connect with Hwy 20 is going to be needed to make the short-term plan as beneficial to the public as possible. It appears without the access, the long-term plan would be unattainable.

The commissioners are currently making inquiries with the adjoining landowners to get that right-of-way in place.

Another bump in the road is a need for water and sewer to be brought to the property that can handle the needs of the long-term goal. A resort/convention center would need the capability to handle a large volume of sewage, especially, so a water system expansion would need to be implemented.

A marketing plan is currently being created in order to get the resort/convention center into the hands of those who specialize in this kind of project.


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