The City of Cheyenne sought a way to turn around the downward trend in a 35-acre area of barren land ridden with an ill-defined patchwork of environmental contamination that palpably stymied attempts to make redevelopment feasible for private and public sector stakeholders. The City turned to Ayres to combine the goals of improved land use, transportation, and fun greenspaces with the aspirations of businesses, developers, and residents to turn dreams to reality in the West Edge district of the City.
The initial spark of hope was a $1 million U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Brownfields Coalition Partners Assessment Grant that Ayres applied for on behalf of the City, Laramie County, and the Cheyenne Downtown Development Authority. The ultimate success of the project can be measured both in the tangible investments in the formerly blighted area, which are 100 times the original $1 million grant, but also in the incalculable pride and optimism that are now pervasive in the West Edge.
The EPA grant was based on plans for stormwater management and stormwater quality improvements for Cheyenne’s Lower Capitol Basin, which encompasses much of the original city, including the historic downtown and near west side. The vision coalesced around providing storm drainage improvements within a package of park amenities featuring trees and curved walkways providing links to social gathering spaces and the Greater Cheyenne Greenway System.
Ayres has assisted the City in acquiring over $17 million in federal, state, and local funding to jumpstart the West Edge Project, including an additional $1 million EPA Brownfield Revolving Loan Cleanup Grant and a $200,000 EPA Brownfield Area-Wide Planning Grant. Additionally, Ayres secured a $132,000 Wyoming Business Council Community Development Block Grant to purchase property. We prepared a successful grant application to the U.S. Department of Commerce Public Works and Economic Development Administration (EDA) Program for about $1.7 million to build an interceptor sewer system and alleviate downtown flooding. We prepared a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Pre-Disaster Mitigation Program grant for flood control, totaling $3 million. Along with a $1.2 million grant award from the Wyoming Mineral Royalty Grant program for flood control, we helped the City secure $4.8 million in Six Penny Tax collection for brownfield development.
Even more impressive than these successful grants are the approximately $108 million in investments the City, developers, and local businesses have made in the West Edge; the grants partially funded some of those projects, which in turn inspired much more investment. From a $25 million city police department building to the $3.3 million Lotus Townhomes, the district is alive with construction. Warehouse 21, Westby Edge Brewery, Black Tooth Brewing Company, CrossFit Cheyenne, West Edge Collective, and the Hitching Post Hotel are among private investments totaling several million dollars.
But it all started with the vision that brownfield redevelopment and stormwater improvements could be the vehicle to get the City to its destination. Environmental site assessments (ESAs) on 28 properties found contaminants such as petroleum, hydrocarbons, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH), solvents, heavy metals, manufactured gas wastes, and mercury. Where remediation was deemed necessary prior to redevelopment, Ayres prepared Remedial Action Plans or Remedy Selection and Implementation reports to pave the way for new, safe uses for the properties.
Real concerns about flooding risks also stood in the way of redevelopment, and nearly $27 million in stormwater improvements have been completed to mitigate threats to life and property. Civic Commons Park now provides flood protection while providing a welcome greenspace for schoolchildren, downtown workers, and nearby residents.
Livability improvements also include heightened public safety; sharper community identity; increased affordable housing and workplace options; improved pedestrian accommodations; and greater collaboration among civic, nonprofit, and for-profit partners. Along the way Ayres has assisted the coalition of stakeholders in grant implementation, ESAs, cleanup planning, funding acquisition, planning and outreach activities, engineering, and other support roles.
Examples of gutsy private investment in the critical early stages of the redevelopment process include the Dinneen family. Undeterred by market studies, the Dinneens completed the Lotus Townhomes in 2019. Warehouse Twenty One, a marketing firm that helped generate the initial branding for the district, staked out the property fronting the Civic Commons. Transforming a nuisance property into an inspiration, the company now employs 30+ creative employees after an investment of $1.6 million. West Edge Collective, a design firm taking its name from the district, launched its business in the West Edge in 2015. And Black Tooth Brewery has announced an expansion of its brand into the West Edge.
These risk-takers demonstrate the passion locals have for the West Edge, staking their livelihoods and futures on a vision. To date, an estimated $108 million in investment has resulted from the initial $1 million EPA grant.
Because brownfield initiatives span years, even decades, articulation of a concise vision is essential. The branding and 3D visualizations created as part of the Assessment Grant and subsequent Area Wide Plan captivated the community, securing grass roots support to carry the project through the tough times. Engagement of the community really kicked in at a public meeting that doubled as a concert. The blending of innovation and partnership between the public and private sectors resulted in Edgefest. Now in its seventh year, the festival’s roots were humbly built during the “release party” for the initial 3D vision video. Like Edgefest, there’s no stopping the commitment to reinvestment in the West Edge.