CHEYENNE – The Hitching Post has sat vacant on the west edge of town for more than a decade, serving as an eyesore to visitors and a thorn in the side of city officials.
And after debating what to do about the almost 10-acre property for years, it seems the city has found an answer in private developer John Koehler, who has a signed purchase agreement for the property that’s expected to be finalized in mid-April. Koehler told the Finance Committee last week that due to the spread of coronavirus, that date could be pushed back.
After closing on the purchase, Koehler’s limited liability company, JPK TR Cheyenne II, will then donate the back portion of the Hitching Post property to the city.
At the Cheyenne City Council meeting Monday, the city postponed accepting the donation due to technical difficulties on its livestream. Upon arriving on that agenda item, the teleconference went haywire, and the council decided it was best to hold a special meeting on the topic before the next scheduled council meeting.
The donation includes three of the Hitching Post buildings and access to the Ice and Events Center from Lincolnway. With Koehler’s redevelopment of the old hotel, the city also gets one less blighted building in the community.
“This is an exciting game-changer for that entire area,” Mayor Marian Orr said.
Late last year, the council debated whether to purchase a portion of the Hitching Post for $329,630 to gain access to and increase safety at the Ice and Events Center and to spur economic development on the west edge of town.
Serving as a gateway to the downtown area, the West Edge has become an increasing focus for the city. And with new businesses and infrastructure like the Civic Commons Park, the city saw an opportunity to show developers that they were investing in the area.
Ultimately, the measure was postponed until a later date to give city staff time to find more accurate abatement estimates for the portion they would’ve purchased. Abating the entire asbestos-ridden property would’ve cost about $2.1 million, and the City Council didn’t feel comfortable going through with the purchase without a firm estimate for their part.
Instead, the redevelopment of the property will fall to Koehler, whose company is also in the midst of tearing down the Atlas Motel to put a Hampton Inn & Suites in its place.
When he first bought the Atlas, Koehler told the Tribune Eagle, “Cheyenne really fits our goal for what we want in a market.”
According to Orr, this situation is the perfect example of what role the private sector serves in our community.
“This is exactly how development should be,” Orr said.
One of the major concerns the council wanted to address was the city’s access to the Ice and Events Center from Lincolnway. Currently, such access is available through an easement, and with the Hitching Post purchase and land donation, the city will maintain that access.
The donation will also allow the city to put up new signage for the center on Lincolnway, improve lighting in the parking lot, and stabilize the abandoned buildings with boards and fencing to mitigate any public safety concerns for residents visiting the Ice and Events Center.
As it is now, the Hitching Post is a public nuisance at best and a public safety hazard at worst. The Cheyenne Police Department still fields a number of calls to the location related to crime and drug use, and some city councilmen think the current lack of fencing exacerbates the problem.
The plan is to immediately stabilize the property with boarding, fencing and lighting when it comes under the city’s ownership for about $60,000, an amount already allocated in the city’s budget.
“It’s huge for public safety,” Orr said. “It’s been a very dangerous area, and so this is going to allow us as a city, owning those properties, to board them up until we as a community decide what the community needs are and how best to utilize those buildings.”
Before Monday, elected officials were not included under the city’s purchasing policy, which provides spending guidelines that help ensure taxpayer dollars are being spent properly.
An ordinance approved by council effectively binds elected officials to the purchasing policy and outlines how the governing body will address any violations.
Currently, city staff are working on larger adjustments to the purchasing policy as a whole, and this ordinance is just a piece of the bigger picture.
“I’m very happy with the progress that has been made to set clear and understandable guidelines for conducting procurements,” Purchasing Manager TJ Barttelbort said at the council’s Finance Committee meeting last week.
The city’s purchasing policy came under scrutiny last year, when the city had to return more than half of a $100,000 grant from Bloomberg Philanthropies that went unused or misspent as related to the grant.
At the time, Councilman Rocky Case persistently vocalized the need for updates to the policy, and he is sponsoring this ordinance as well as the larger changes.
When a city employee violates the purchasing policy, their actions will continue to be dealt with through the city’s disciplinary process. But with the new ordinance, elected officials who commit violations will be addressed by the governing body.
In the case of a bad actor, the governing body could address the elected officials in a number of ways – censure them, conduct an investigation and produce a report, and refer charges to the district attorney. But the governing body won’t be able to take action beyond those mentioned due to the nature of elected officials.
“The authority of the governing body is not vast regarding an elected official, because, as we all know, the conscience of an elected official is at the ballot box,” City Attorney Mike O’Donnell told the Finance Committee last week.
The proposed ordinance would also allow the city to make adjustments to the purchasing policy without City Council approval. Barttelbort said this would allow the policy to be adjusted as best procurement practices change over time without a council ordinance or amendment.
In other business
• The council approved a ceremonial resolution recognizing the late Jim Lynch for his “dedication and outstanding contributions to the city of Cheyenne, Wyoming and its residents.” A former city councilman and long-time Frontier Days volunteer, Lynch was known for his giving spirit, perhaps being most well-known for his coordinating position at Coats for Kids. After he passed, his daughter Josephine Carlson told the Tribune Eagle that he gave “to the point of insanity.” Carlson said, “He was a man with a heart as big as his laugh, and will be greatly missed by countless people.”
• The council passed a resolution supporting the Cheyenne Police Department on its path toward accreditation from the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies. The process will take three years, and the goal of accreditation is “to improve the relationships with the community, ensure adherence to policing best-practices, and reduce risk and liability for the city Cheyenne.”
• The council passed a $34,500 agreement with Carbonhouse for the design and development of a new Cheyenne Events website.
• The council approved two sponsorship agreements. The first is with Spradley Barr Toyota for a total of $35,000 for the 2020-21 Cheyenne Civic Center Broadway Series, Family Film Series, Superday 2020 Kid Zone and Art Access. The second is with HollyFrontier for $25,000 for Superday 2020, the Superday Tour de Prairie and the Superday 5k Walk/Run.
• The council approved a $296,286 human services agreement with United Way of Laramie County that will be paid over three years. The funds from the 2015-18 optional 1% sales tax will be dispersed to the Boys and Girls Club, Special Friends of Cheyenne, the COMEA House homeless shelter, HealthWorks and Peak Wellness.
• The council approved a $62,416 contract modification for the Depot Plaza Splash Pad project, which allows for the installation of a new sanitary sewer pipe. Given that there are no delays due to weather or the coronavirus, the Splash Pad is expected to be completed sometime in June.