|By Jessica Lowell, Wyoming Tribune-Eagle|
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Mar. 11, 2005 - CHEYENNE -- The bumpy road to developing a convention center in Cheyenne may have been smoothed a great deal this week.
Earl Holding, who heads up the Little America hotel chain, met in Salt Lake City with a delegation from Cheyenne on Wednesday to talk about expanding facilities at his Cheyenne hotel.
"Nothing is final," Little America general manager Shaun Powis said Thursday from his Cheyenne office, "but this is the closest we've ever been."
For about two years, a community task force has been examining the need in Cheyenne for a convention center. The conclusion, reached with the help of industry consultant C.H. Johnson, is that enough need exists, and that Cheyenne could increase convention business and boost the local economy by competing with other communities in the state and in the region.
The process identified four likely sites and made some other recommendations about running the center.
The biggest question, however, is how such a facility would be paid for -- whether it would be through grants, an optional sales tax or another public source.
Powis said his company had considered adding on to the function space at the Cheyenne hotel as early as 1997, but it never reached the top of the company's priority list.
"Other hoteliers and we have felt the need for one," Powis said, noting that his hotel's marketing plan listed the number of groups who wanted to hold a meeting at Little America but were turned away because of a lack of space.
Powis, along with representatives from other Cheyenne hotels, served on the task force. And Powis has offered to donate land at Little America if that made sense as a location for the project.
"And we've said that it doesn't have to be here," he said.
Powis said Holding has made investments in other communities, including the Grand America hotel built in Salt Lake City before the 2002 Winter Olympics.
A convention center here could benefit the whole community, say those involved in the planning process.
Among the group who traveled to Salt Lake was Cheyenne Area Convention and Visitors Bureau Executive Director Darren Rudloff.
"If Little America is planning a significant expansion that meets the community's needs, then Cheyenne is indeed fortunate," Rudloff said, adding that Little America has a solid track record of producing first-class facilities.
"I think it's very appropriate for the city and our convention center task force to carefully consider how their planned expansion matches our community's needs."
"I'm very encouraged," Cheyenne Mayor Jack Spiker said. "I don't think government should (build a convention center) if the private sector is willing to step up and make that happen. We didn't have anyone coming forward from any of the other hotel properties."
Joining Spiker and Rudloff were representatives from the Cheyenne City Council, the Greater Cheyenne Chamber of Commerce and Cheyenne LEADS.
Gov. Dave Freudenthal also went to Salt Lake City.
"Earl indicated if they reach the conclusion to build additional meeting and conference space here, it would be done right," Freudenthal said.
Powis acknowledged that building a facility as large as a convention center is a huge investment. He said he's not ready to say how much money that would be.
And he's not prepared to say exactly when a final decision would be made.
"We might be able to do a good job as a private entity."
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