Casper City Council took a symbolic first step toward what some council members believe will be a critical redevelopment driver for downtown Casper.

On Monday, Casper City Council approved a $650,000 property purchase with the hope of using the property to catalyze the construction of a sprawling downtown hotel and conference center complex.

The resolution passed by a narrow 5-4 margin. Mayor Kenyne Schlager and councilmen Bob Hopkins, Paul Meyer, Paul Bertoglio and Charlie Powell voted in favor of the purchase. Coulcilmen Keith Goodenough, Steve Cathey, Craig Hedquist and Daniel Sandoval voted against the purchase.

In the nearly $50 million public-private proposal, the city would build a $12 million downtown conference center if a hotelier builds an attached $30 million hotel next door.

The proposal also includes a $1.3 million plaza, a $400,000 parking lot and various other projects.

Officials believe the city can recoup roughly $9 million of its initial investment by selling naming rights and by pursuing other revenue-generating options.

Casper mayor Kenyne Schlager, who voted in favor of the land purchase, says the potential rewards outweigh the pitfalls.

“To be able to continue down that path to find out if this is really going to work or not, this had to be done,” Schlager said. “For me, the conference center has to be downtown. That was part of why it was so appealing to me – to try to bring that liveliness to downtown that always isn’t there.”

Councilman Keith Goodenough voted against the purchase. He questions whether a public-private collaboration is the best option.

“If it were a financially viable project, private money would come in (and companies) would see the benefits of putting their own money in,” Goodenough said.

The property owner will have an option to buy back the property at a discount in December 2013 and in 2016 if the owner doesn't feel the city has made sufficient progress toward redeveloping the land.