Our view: Depot takes step in right direction
Last week, the Green River City Council voted to return a $1 million grant to the Wyoming Business Council which would have been used to renovate the U.P. Depot building.
While this isn’t the first time the city voted to return renovation grant funds and could probably sour the city’s relationship with the WBC in regards to future grant requests, this is the best course of action for the city to take.
One of the major problems with the grant was its requirement for a 66 percent match, which would essentially mean the city would need to pay $2 million to receive the full $1 million. If that grant were awarded a few years ago, during the major portion of the oil and gas boom, it wouldn’t have been a problem. However since the boom ended and a census update shifted some tax funds to Rock Springs, the city has faced problems associated with declining revenues. A decreased budget has already impacted some of the city’s funding decisions and finding roughly $1.6. million, which takes into account $400,000 Mayor Hank Castillon said would come from the State Lands and Investment Board’s Consensus Block Grant, would be very difficult for the city. As Councilman Gary Killpack said at the meeting, all the city would need to do is lay off some employees to make up the difference. But, who would want to tell a city employee they’re being laid off for the sake of a building project?
Another problem with the original grant application, is it outlined the building’s usage for city programs and art events. Clearly, there was some misunderstanding amongst council members because a few, including Councilwoman Lisa Maes, said they believed the Lynch Hall portion of the depot would be leased out as a restaurant. Making the building another city property would be an absolute waste of property and location, especially in a city that has 82 percent of its total land dedicated to residential use.
The city already has a number of locations it can use for those events, including Expedition Island. If the city wants to increase the number of businesses in the city, one of the best ways would be to use the depot as a place for small businesses to set up. Focusing the depot project as an economic development opportunity could, as Grants Specialist Misty Springer said, may make the project more attractive to grant funding at better match rates.
The depot still isn’t a project the city should prioritize, but shifting gears to economic development is a step in the right direction for the depot. We can hope that one day, we will be able to peruse the shops at the depot; a much better use than renovating it for strictly city use.