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City entity working to turn 300-acre plot into commercial zone

Jan 30, 2014 By Katie Roenigk, Staff Writer

The state-owned lot lies just south of the Wyoming Honor Farm and has been the subject of discussions among state and local leaders since 2006.

The city of Riverton's economic development entity, IDEA Inc., is continuing work behind the scenes to put a parcel of publicly owned land into productive use.

The state-owned lot just south of the Wyoming Honor Farm has been the subject of discussions among state and local leaders since 2006, when the city attempted a land swap involving the Department of Corrections and a private investor who was interested in the property as a commercial retail center. The DOC pulled out of the deal in 2011 citing public concern over the land exchange process.

During the 2013 session of the Wyoming Legislature, lawmakers passed a bill sponsored by state Sen. Eli Bebout, R-Riverton, to put the Wyoming State Board of Land Commissioners in charge of the management and control of certain institutional lands, including the property north of Riverton.

"It needs to be out of the hands of government (and) into the private sector," Bebout said this month. "That's moving ahead."

In September, IDEA Inc. applied for a Business Ready Communities grant from the Wyoming Business Council to purchase the land in question. But IDEA executive director Phil Christopherson said he had to withdraw that application.

"We didn't know how much to ask for," he said. "We never got an appraised value on the land. (And then) we found out there's this whole other process we have to follow to acquire state lands."

So, he submitted a "category 1" application to the state to request private acquisition of the property north of Riverton. Christopherson said the State Loan and Investment Board met this week to discuss the prospect, and on Thursday morning they e-mailed him to say they had approved the application.

"That's good news," Christopherson said.

With the board's approval, the application will progress to "category 2," which involves public hearings, analysis and appraisal of the land.

Once an appraisal is completed, Christopherson can to use the dollar amount to reapply for the BRC grant. The limit for BRC grant funding is set at $1 million, but Christopherson said the WBC can offer more money for unique economic development opportunities.

"This is a unique economic development opportunity for us," Christopherson said. "It's an opportunity for the city of Riverton to expand."

If the grant total doesn't cover the cost of the land, he said IDEA would initiate a fundraising campaign.

Once the grant is --hopefully --approved and sufficient funds are collected, IDEA will use the money to bid on the property at public auction.

"Anybody can bid on the land," Christopherson said.

He added that he wouldn't be too disappointed if someone else purchased the parcel.

"We hope to get it, but honestly our aim is just to get it into private hands so it can be developed," he said.

IDEA would like to turn the 300-acre plot into a commercial retail center complete with housing. City leaders in recent years said a commercial retail complex on the property would bring more sales tax dollars to the town and help develop Riverton into a stronger presence in the regional market. The city approved IDEA's BRC grant application in September.

Christopherson said it is too early to speculate about possible businesses that could move to the property in the future. The land is currently used by the WHF for agricultural purposes, and it contains the Wyoming Modeler's Park where residents fly and drive miniature, remote controlled vehicles.

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