Laramie Main Street Seeks Downtown Development Grant To Re-develop Empress Lot

Project Summary: The Laramie Main Street Alliance, a 501(c) 3 not-for-profit dedicated to revitalizing downtown Laramie, is seeking a Business Ready Community, Downtown Development Grant from the Wyoming Business Council in the amount of $3 million to redevelop the Empress lot located at 112 South Second Street. The request is contingent on the adoption of rule changes by the Wyoming Business Council.

The redevelopment plan for the lot includes the construction of a two-story 10,000 square foot building.  The ground level of building will be leased by Laramie Main Street to Big Hollow Natural Foods Coop. The second story of the building will be developed with options for residential.

Laramie Main Street and Big Hollow are contributing equally to the grant cash match requirement and will be using the property, currently owned by the Laramie Community Redevelopment Foundation, as part of the in kind match for the grant and will NOT be seeking loans or funding from the City. However, the City of Laramie, per Wyoming Business Council requirements, will administer the grant.

The transfer of the property from the Laramie Community Redevelopment Foundation is contingent on a successful grant award.

A public hearing for the project will be held Tuesday, April 19 at 6 pm at City Council Chambers.

Big Hollow: Big Hollow is a locally owned community grocery store dedicated to providing opportunities for local growers and producers.  Its mission is to support local agriculture, provide healthy food options and empower its community. Big Hollow opened in September 2007 using funds that were raised entirely by the community. In its first six years of business Big Hollow experienced exponential growth, but by 2015 its sales have stabilized. This stabilization occurred in large part because Big Hollow’s current location, 119 South First Street, is simply too small to allow for any additional growth.   As a result, Big Hollow, with support from the majority of its members, has determined that it must expand its operation in order to meet future growth objectives.

In 2015, Big Hollow employed a workforce of 19 people. Big Hollow estimates that this expansion will enable it to increase its revenues and, as a result, expand its workforce by an estimated 12 additional workers over the next five years.

Project Development: Since the demolition of the building in 2009, formerly the Empress and later Fox Theater, the Laramie Main Street board has been exploring ways to redevelop the site. After completing a feasibility study in 2010, declaring the site as a high priority for infill in its 2012 Downtown Development Plan, completing a business and building inventory in 2014 and hosting a series of public meetings between 2010 and 2015; the board begin working with the City of Laramie’s grant writer on a Business Ready Community, Downtown Development grant.

After the public “visioning” meetings in the fall to determine how the Empress lot might be developed, Big Hollow and Laramie Main Street began discussing whether or not the lot would be a good fit for Big Hollow. Together, they consulted with two architecture firms and determined the lot was ideally suited to meet both Big Hollow’s growth objectives and Laramie Main Street’s desire to add additional housing to the downtown area. Laramie Main Street and Big Hollow then began to negotiate a Project Development Agreement and Lease Agreement in consultation with City staff and the Regional Director to the Wyoming Business Council.

Through the Project Development Agreement, Laramie Main Street and Big Hollow will each contribute $37,500 cash toward this project for a combined total of $75,000. And, through the Lease Agreement, Big Hollow will lease the ground floor building from Laramie Main Street for a ten-year period at which time it will have the option to purchase the building. Laramie Main Street will, in turn, use lease proceeds to market the upper floor, cover building expenses, support its program operations, and invest in downtown economic development projects. A portion of revenues will also be returned to the Wyoming Business Council as required within pending rule changes.

While it is unclear when the Wyoming Business Council grant rule change process will conclude, a tentative grant deadline of June 1, 2016 is pending with a preliminary funding decision in September, 2016 with a final funding decision in October 2016.