Initiative #1 - Downtown Revitalization
These action steps are outlined in the Community and Economic Development strategy. Below are the action steps, but the full document includes the case studies, as well.
Facilitate revitalization of Downtown Cheyenne through a series of intentional investments, new incentives, and redevelopment projects.
Action 1.1: Aggressively implement existing strategic plans supporting downtown development, including but not limited to the West Edge Area Plan, the Reed Avenue Rail Corridor Plan, and other relevant plans.
In recent years, the community has invested heavily in defining visions and blueprints for revitalization of the community's downtown core and various districts contained within it. In the last four years alone, this includes but is not limited to: Historic West Edge Reimagined (2014); West Edge Area Plan (2016); Downtown Core Plan (2016); Strategic Parking Management Plan (2017); Main Street America Transformation Strategies (2017), and; Reed Avenue Rail Corridor Plan (2018).
Simply put, it is time to invest heavily in the implementation of these visions and plans. That work has already begun in many respects, with investments in stormwater management and other infrastructure complementing changes to zoning code to permit more flexible, desirable uses within these districts. The Downtown Development Authority (DDA) has launched a variety of new programs and initiatives from lighting enhancements to facade improvement grants while executing their strategic plans. These are just a few examples of the work that is underway, and the various initiatives and recommendations contained within these visions and blueprints are too numerous to exhaustively list here. However, the input received in the Forward Greater Cheyenne process validated that implementation of these strategic blueprints are of critical importance to residents and central to their vision for the future. To advance downtown revitalization, the community needs to aggressively implement these plans, enabling new mechanisms to finance their implementation, while supporting a new catalytic projects and initiatives in the community's traditional central business district.
Action 1.2: Enable new mechanisms to finance and guide intentional redevelopment in Downtown Cheyenne.
As suggested in various plans related to West Edge redevelopment, consideration should be given to expansion of the DDA's official boundaries to encompass additional properties throughout the West Edge district; the Reed Avenue Rail Corridor Plan observed that only 60 percent of the corridor falls within DDA boundaries. This would enable the DDA to more effectively guide and influence development in targeted areas.
Similarly, consideration should be given to the implementation of state-enabled tax increment financing (TIF}, a powerful redevelopment tool utilized around the country to help proactively guide desirable development. DDAs may utilize both property tax and sales tax TIF within their boundaries. The West Edge Area Plan (2017) notes that the district's sales tax TIF expired in 2016 and recommends that the DDA consider utilizing both sales tax and property tax TIF to support redevelopment projects in the district. A feasibility study that evaluates various revenue generation scenarios associated with downtown TIF could help inform the process and advance the cause.
Further, at present the DDA is supported in part by a levy on property owners of 20 mills. Understanding that property owners recently voted to increase the mill rate, Wyoming statutes enable DDAs to levy up to 30 mills. A further elevated mill rate could gain support and generate a solid return on investment for property owners if progress towards other redevelopment objectives and catalytic projects is evident in the downtown area.
Consideration should also be given to ways in which the community's economic development organization, Cheyenne LEADS, can geographically reorient strategic land holdings to support job creation downtown in alignment with residents' vision (see Initiative #5.3).
Finally, the community has potential to advance a seventh penny economic development sales tax to, in part, help advance such catalytic projects. Simply put, the community's existing mechanisms to finance and support redevelopment in Downtown and West Edge are inadequate to sufficiently realize the visions detailed in the plans referenced above. Community leaders, voters, and property owners will need to meet the challenge and enable the community and its DOA to advance downtown development in an intentional manner that recognizes the value of public investments via provision of incentives and infrastructure.
Action 1.3: Invest in broadband infrastructure -potentially including a free public wireless network -to facilitate job creation and Downtown Cheyenne's economic evolution.
The deployment of free public wireless internet throughout Downtown Cheyenne can help attract customers to certain businesses, drive traffic to gathering places, and better enable live-work-play environments. Free public wireless internet can serve multiple purposes beyond infrastructure and access; deployment would support the area's positive image and identity, contribute to an entrepreneurial climate, and enable new business activities. The City of Cheyenne recently empowered a Broadband Task Force with the development of recommendations to improve high speed internet access. The task force has presented draft recommendations, including the provision of free public wireless access in the most trafficked areas of downtown. The task force recommended a publicprivate approach to support the deployment and maintenance of infrastructure. Potential exists to identify one or more corporate or non-profit partners; many corporations have sponsored wireless deployment in communities around the country, including but not limited to Toyota, Google, AT&T, and Comcast. The deployment of free public wireless in Downtown Cheyenne should be a priority for the community amidst its more long-term, ambitious efforts to enable gigabit capacity. Neighboring communities, most notably Longmont and Fort Collins, have deployed or are currently developing city-wide public broadband networks offering gigabit speeds.
Action 1.4: Implement a collaborative plan leveraging the Bloomberg Mayor's Challenge and associated "Fight the Blight" initiative to promote occupancy, rehabilitation, and utilization in the downtown area.
Stakeholders have noted that nearly 350,000 square feet of office space in and around downtown will hit the market in the near future as the State of Wyoming leaves temporary office space to occupy new government facilities (the Wyoming Capitol Square Project). This amount of space is sufficient to accommodate roughly 2,000 jobs assuming industry averages of roughly 175 square feet per employee for typical Class A office nationwide. This represents both a tremendous opportunity and an immense challenge. In the near-term, the community will need to doubledown on efforts to promote occupancy in the central business district. Fortunately, the City has already launched an initiative that can serve as the foundation of this effort: the "Fight the Blight" initiative submitted on behalf of Greater Cheyenne as part of the 2018 Bloomberg Mayor's Challenge. Cheyenne's proposal -eligible for between $1 million and $5 million in funding -would support the development of a resource linking property owners with prospective tenants, and linking both with available resources to help them reach a mutually-beneficial outcome. This initiative could be supported by other tactics that have proven effective in downtowns around the country:
a Developers Academy to help inexperienced property owners learn about real estate development
a Developers Day that showcases underutilized parcels to potential developers
a phased, term-limited rent subsidy program to encourage occupancy by entrepreneurs
These initiatives would build upon work in progress by the ODA to create a Develops Toolkit -a resource to help educate prospective developers about the development process as well as the various tools and incentives that are available to support their endeavors. This Toolkit and a complementary Developers Academy can help position the DOA as a provider of technical expertise to support redevelopment projects, large and small.
Action 1.5: Invest in catalytic projects that can help kickstart investment and transformation.
Around the country, many downtown revitalization efforts around the country fail to gain traction and positive momentum absent a sizeable investment from an anchor institution or major employer. In many urban cores, this "first mover" has been the public sector through investments in new city halls and government complexes. Similarly, anchor institutions -notably, educational and health systems -have advanced catalytic projects. In others, publicprivate initiatives have advanced new cultural attractions as catalysts. In addition to realization of the aforementioned visions and blueprints for Downtown Cheyenne, the West Edge District, and the Reed Avenue Rail Corridor, Forward Greater Cheyenne recommends three major new investments in the community's downtown:
The extension and activation of the Cheyenne Greenway through Downtown Cheyenne
The establishment of new LCCC instructional and residential facilities in Downtown Cheyenne
The establishment of the Cheyenne Center for Enterprise and Entrepreneurship (C2E2)
These catalytic projects are detailed in Initiatives #2, #3, and #4, respectively.