On Tuesday it was announced that the Downtown Development Authority of Casper would be sponsoring free parking in the downtown Casper parking garage, located at 230 South Wolcott Street.

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This came in the wake of a month's worth of construction taking place on 2nd street, between David and Durbin streets. Some small businesses in the area criticized the decision to shut down the streets, arguing that doing so would cause massive losses for their businesses. The City of Casper responded to these criticisms, and Crown Construction, the company in charge of the project, stated that they would open the streets to traffic when possible, but there were still issues regarding parking downtown. This has been an issue even before construction started, but the project brought to light, once more, how hard parking downtown really is.

Because of the ongoing construction, the D.D.A. stated that throughout the month of October, they would pay for hourly parking in the downtown garage.

"Honestly, when we were notified that the main street was going to be closed, it just felt like the right thing to do," said Kevin Hawley, Executive Director of the Downtown Development Authority. "It only made sense - if you take away or add an obstacle, it gives us the chance to present a solution."

Hawley said that the D.D.A. used to manage the Wolcott parking garage, but no longer do. The relationship is still there, though, so they reached out to the city and to the contractor who runs the garage now and they offered to put up $1,000 to sponsor free parking for Casper residents who want to spend some time downtown.

"I don't know that people will take advantage of it," Hawley said. "I don't know if it'll be used, but we felt like it was the right thing to do. We didn't want to see any of these small businesses downtown struggle. It's been a tough year-and-a-half for them already. So anything we could do - we thought, 'Heck, we'll sponsor it for a thousand dollars and see if it helps anybody."

Hawley said the $1,000 is coming directly from their budget, as well.

"Obviously we didn't know about it or budget for it," he said. "But we can figure out how to shift around some dollars. It wasn't budgeted, but I think it's a thousand dollars well-spent if people utilize it and they continue to come downtown and they're willing to walk the extra block and help support these small businesses and the mom-and-pops and all those unique shops we have downtown. It's one piece that...shame on us if we didn't think of doing that."

Hawley also said that there is a noticeable problem with the current parking structure in downtown Casper. He did note, however, that many of the downtown businesses do, in fact, validate parking.

"A lot of times what we hear is that [customers[ will circle the block two or three times and, if they don't find parking close by, they'll just leave," he stated. "So if the road's closed, you're not going to find parking nearby. Now, you can just go right to the garage, grab a free hourly spot on the lower levels, go do your shopping and get on with your busy day. But I also hope that this brings awareness that every day of the year there's free validation stickers that you can get from participating merchants at that parking garage. So for a couple hours, if you want it to, it's free every day if you get a voucher."

Additionally, the Old Yellowstone District parking lot (across the street from The Gaslight Social) is also available for free parking.

The consensus from the D.D.A., Crown Construction and the City of Casper is that while this construction needed to be done downtown, nobody wanted it to be to the detriment of the local businesses, which is why all three have worked together to minimize the impact felt by downtown shop owners.

"I don't want to say this is the worst street in Casper by anyway means, but it definitely needs work," Hawley pointed out. "We're unbelievably thankful to the city. They could have spent these dollars anywhere, but they decided to invest in downtown."

Hawley said that while it's exciting when new businesses open up downtown, it's equally important to take care of the existing businesses, as well as the overall aesthetic of the downtown scene.

"Everybody always wants to do the ribbon cutting and have the new businesses open and that's all well and good," he stated. "But part of having a healthy downtown is taking care of the existing businesses and clientele that you have. It's nice to have a Donnell's Candy or a Lou Tauberts, as well as supporting the new up-and-comers. I think it's important that the D.D.A champions taking care of what you have first, before worrying about the multi-million dollar expansion efforts and things."

And part of taking care of what we have is fixing what needs to be fixed, including the curbs, the sidewalks, and the streets. Both the City of Casper and the D.D.A. want downtown Casper to continue to thrive and, they said, part of that happening relies on the less glamorous aspects of the area being taken care of as well.


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