The Downtown Development Authority intends to complete the first phase of construction of the downtown plaza before the solar eclipse darkens the skies of Casper in August.

"It's imperative that we have this as a functioning usable space by the total solar eclipse, so that's Aug. 21, 2017," Development Authority Executive Director Kevin Hawley said Thursday.

"We don't know how many people that are coming here for that event, but we know we need a space downtown to entertain and engage with those folks," Hawley said.

Demolition crews recently cleared the buildings and parking lots along West Yellowstone Highway between David and Ash streets for the plaza, which will be known as the David Street Station, Hawley said after announcing the first phase of construction at a news conference at the Lyric, the name of the former Iris Theater.

The DDA wanted to complete the plaza in one phase, which would have saved money, but having a separate and smaller first phase will show the community progress, he said.

"As much as we wanted to just do this as one lump sum project, and the cost savings that would come with that, by doing it as one project, it was really important to show progress, to show progress to the community, to show progress to our donors," Hawley said.

The recent demolition showed the community the DDA was serious, and as a result it received numerous donations. Funding is coming from public and private sources.

It also lead to a commitment by Hilltop National Bank and the True family to pledge $500,000 for the second phase if the DDA raises the rest of the money needed to complete the David Street Station.

So far, the demolition cost $1.5 million, and the first phase will cost about $1.8 million, Hawley said. That money is already in the back.

The first phase will be on the western side of the plaza along East Yellowstone Highway near Ash Street featuring a plaza entrance, a concert stage and a concert lawn, according to site plans.

The second phase is estimated to cost $3.6 million. That phase will feature an entrance at Yellowstone and David Street, a small performance and activity area, an overlook for the plaza, and the Hilltop National Bank-sponsored splash pad.

The DDA has $700,000 for the second phase, including the pledge from Hilltop National Bank.

The Development Authority is trying to reduce the cost of the second phase to $3.0 million, Hawley said.

The City of Casper will own the plaza and lease it to the Downtown Development Authority, which will operate it.