BY RICHARD JOHNSON
What do the downtown Cheyenne Hilton Garden Inn and the jackalope have in common?
They are both creatures of myth.
In 2014, the city was hoping a new downtown hotel would be the perfect silver bullet to kill whatever werewolf was roaming the streets, scaring people away from downtown after dark.
The idea was that the hotel would be an anchor to connect downtown to the exciting, new West Edge Project.
Some130 rooms of hospitality and comfort and a captive downtown audience.
|The mythical Hilton Garden Inn and walkway for downtown Cheyenne.|
With the finishing touches placed on the Dinneen Auto complex transformation at the corner of West Lincolnway and Pioneer making a way for a restaurant and bougie offices, a hotel with conference rooms would be the cherry on top of a small, melting Cheyenne downtown development sundae.
So what happened? Did the werewolves of Capitol Avenue win the night? Did Medusa court the interested hotel developers and turn them to stone before they could sign commitments?
Let's take a moment to study the mythical, magical number that is the holy grail of all Cheyenne business success stories: $750,000. Under the Wyoming Constitution, the government has certain parameters it must meet in order to dole out funds to private enterprise. Projects that can be funded with state grants must involve the building or rehabilitation of infrastructure for public use, government use or for lower-income residents.
In the case of the Cheyenne Hilton, the prospective sky bridge to the Spiker garage would just barely fall under the umbrella of public infrastructure for public use. We had the tunnels from the brothels to the Capitol so why not update those tunnels to a fancy sky bridge?
The State Loan and Investment board, known as SLIB, did approve funding for construction of an "elevated walkway.” The grant was for $562,248 to build the walkway and a loan was for $187,500.
As the story goes, it appeared that something similar to shope papillomavirus(which causes growth of large horn-like tumors on rabbits) started to happen. Hotel corporate planners started changing the building, and modifications to the approved "elevated walkway" project took on a life of their own, similar to antlers sprouting from the heads of rabbits.
It all started with the addition of a ground-level pool to that hotel’s blueprints, which opened a proverbial Pandora's Box to added attractive hotel features while still maintaining the usual cookie cutter standards of any boring corporate chain.
In the words of the Joker, “It's all part of the plan!” You don’t just drop a $14 million to $18 million, eight-story investment into a struggling downtown without knowing the corporate mission is fulfilled with all i's dotted and t's crossed. You can’t have any profits hopping across the Wyoming prairie down to Colorado.
Quicker than Mercury carries the latest Echo Chamber gossip to Jupiter, things started to unravel for the downtown Cheyenne Hilton Garden Inn project.
The ideas were there, but the financing wasn't. In 2015, Wyoming got another courtesy wake-up call from its famous “boom-bust cycle." To quote Ice Cube, "With a right left, right left, you toothless; and then you say: 'Goddamn, they ruthless!' ” Both coal and natural gas tanked simultaneously. The purse strings were yanked tighter than a dance hall girl's corset.
The Wyoming Business Council stated, “If the developer does not meet the November deadline
for financing, the funds will be de-obligated and returned to the Business Ready Communities grant program.”
|This jackalope is the current symbol of Douglas.|
The application for the Frankenstein hotel/conference center/anchor/sky bridge/elevated walkway was withdrawn and effectively died.
In 2017, the mayor stated, “The city continues to remain in strong support of this project. ... We also understand that the Wyoming Business Council needs to put these inactive dollars to work and is unable to wait for the developers to obtain final bank financing.”
It’s now 2019, and the only mention anyone hears of the Hilton Garden Inn is likely from my friend Rodney and me as we slosh our beer and mentally tour the graveyard of downtown Cheyenne projects resting in peace. Does anyone have some garlands of garlic and sharpened wooden stakes Rodney and I can borrow?
Honestly, I hadn’t thought about the hotel debacle in years. If you ask around, people are saying it’s still happening. Maybe the idea needs a lightning strike from Zeus so the jackalope can procreate new ideas.
Or maybe, like many other good ideas for downtown, it's just another casualty of greed and piss-poor planning that will remain a glorious myth instead of a tangible reality.
Let’s make a bet. Will the Cheyenne Hilton Garden Inn be built before an 80-foot fiberglass jackalope statue in Douglas? The clock starts now.
NOTES: 1 – SLIB consists of the governor, secretary of state, treasurer, auditor and secretary of public instruction; 2 – Shopes or Sylvilagus floridanusPapillomavirus (SfPV) causes growth of large horn-like tumors on rabbits. SfPV was described in cottontail rabbits.
Richard Johnson is a former City Council member from Ward 3 on Cheyenne’s east side.