Sunday, April 23, 2017

Downtown Cheyenne and LCCC

How long has Cheyenne struggled to revitalize its downtown? Restaurants come and go. Downtown traffic can’t sustain them. Two more recently closed. The hole and long-abandoned, decaying buildings have become embarrassing landmarks. In spite of the commitment of so many, revitalization of downtown Cheyenne has become a monument to Sisyphus.

You may recall how the gods condemned Sisyphus to an eternity of hopeless and futile labor. He was required to forever push an enormous rock to the top of the mountain. Every day Sisyphus put his shoulder to the stone, wedge his feet and push with all his might, inching the rock forward. But, whenever he made any progress, the stone rolled backward under its own weight. The next day, he would start anew. It certainly wasn’t for lack of effort that the stone never reached the mountaintop.

Nor is it for lack of effort that revitalization of downtown Cheyenne seems as far away today as ever. There is clearly no quick fix, but there is one possible long-range vision. This idea may be half a century late but if bold action isn’t taken, nothing will change.

Imagine how different Cheyenne could be if the campus of Laramie County Community College were downtown instead of where it is.

At the time, it seemed the best choice. The land was free. The voters had taken a lot of persuasion to even create the college and were not enamored with spending a lot of money on it. And in the late 60s, there was no mall and no heavily commercialized Dell Range. All of that came later and as it did, downtown Cheyenne suffered.

Decades from now there will still be a downtown Cheyenne. The question is whether or not it will be characterized by vitality or not.

Now’s the time. As LCCC Trustees consider major new building projects, there is an opportunity to develop a long-range plan to move parts of the college into the heart of Cheyenne. Certainly, some of the college’s facilities, such as agricultural, equine, auto body, and perhaps other vocational programs should remain at the current location. Still, there would be significant economic benefits from moving the center of campus activity to downtown.

LCCC recently voted to fund planning for three major projects that could form the vanguard of a gradual relocation. They are a new 28 million-dollar residence hall, the renovation of the Fine Arts Building, and construction of a 14 million-dollar auditorium to seat 450-500 people. 

Beforehand, the Trustees and the community should consider the economic surge that would follow the process of relocating elements of the college from their current site to the downtown Cheyenne area.

Such a move couldn’t be expected to happen overnight. It would take years. But consider what it would do for the local economy. Witness communities that have college campuses in or near their downtown commercial areas. In cities like Boise, Ft. Collins, and even Laramie where a robust campus life radiates from the campus out across the downtown area. The interactions and commercial intercourse between students, faculty, and businesses generates economic diversification and growth. Students have employment opportunities near their classrooms. Businesses experience ongoing and sustained customer traffic.

Though it would be many years before such a relocation could be completed, a decision to move in that direction could result in immediate benefits. The location of student housing and a Fine Arts Building in the downtown area would signal to developers that Cheyenne’s downtown is the place to be. With students living in the downtown area, current businesses would experience a greater customer base and new ones would have a reason to make an investment in downtown Cheyenne. Downtown would suddenly become a more attractive place to open new clothing stores, bars and restaurants among other businesses catering to students and faculty.

The transition would be gradual but each step would bring new life to the city. Perhaps we could start by filling in that hole with the new 28 million-dollar residence hall.

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