CHEYENNE — With enough devotion and work, visions can sometimes come true.
One of those dreams culminated recently with the groundbreaking ceremony for the future Cheyenne Children’s Museum.
This is a project that seemed to be dead several years ago.
He was saved by a group of Cheyenne residents who refused to give up.
His first goal was ingenious, I thought at the time. They would develop the museum in the “hole” on West 17th Street in downtown Cheyenne. The project would eliminate a major blight in the downtown Cheyenne strip and enliven the district with a new museum attraction.
That hole is what remains of Mary’s Bakery and other offices destroyed by arson in December 2004.
The gap has been the focus of numerous attempts by a succession of mayors and other officials to make it a respectable inhabitant of historic downtown Cheyenne, a prominent tourist magnet.
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It is located next door to the Hynds Building, which has also been vacant for 30+ years, except for the main floor which is used for art exhibits and other projects.
But all potential deals to sell developers the Hynds and possibly the hole as well have fallen through. One idea that was particularly ambitious was to convert the Hynds Building into apartments with a skybridge connecting it to the nearby Spiker parking lot.
The idea of an airlift had been floated before in Cheyenne, but never progressed. Neither is this one. Hynds’ prospective developer like those before and after dropped out.
The hole at one point had mixed ownership with the city owning a portion and a Kansas developer owning the remainder.
The legal tangle was difficult to unravel given the Kansas owner’s resistance to dealing with Cheyenne officials.
Amy Surdam, the first chairperson of the Cheyenne Children’s Museum Board, swung into action to resolve the property issue.
He went in person to see the owner of the business in Kansas. He liked the idea of the Cheyenne Children’s Museum and agreed to sell the pit part of it to the museum board.
With this resolved, the next big step was to raise money for the museum through eligible grants and donations.
In 2016, his attempt to get a share of the seventh-cent sales tax over four years to raise $20 million for the museum failed in a special election.
That pretty much broke the deal, at least temporarily.
Meanwhile, support for the location of the hole in the center of the city was waning. Opponents pointed to the shortage of parking in the city center plus the problem of passers-by hanging out in the nearby parking lot. Also school buses carrying visiting children would cause traffic jams.
The board ended up selling the hole property to the Cheyenne economic development agency.
His idea received a major boost when an heir to the estate of Paul Smith, owner of the renowned Hitching Post Inn, donated two acres of land to the museum’s board.
Acreage is part of the land under the bulldozed old down payment and adjacent property.
While not located in downtown Cheyenne but in the city’s West Edge development, parking will be ample.
Gunnar Malm, Laramie County Commissioner, was one of dozens of people who attended the museum’s recent opening.
What happened, he said in a brief interview, was that a group of hard-working people continued to push their vision forward: they persevered.
This summer, the Laramie County Board of County Commissioners allocated a small portion of the federal money received from the American Rescue Plan Act to the Children’s Museum.
The county, Malm said, allowed nonprofits like the museum to apply for the federal money, resulting in $2.4 million in total distributions.
A year ago, the museum received a $50,000 grant from the Cheyenne-Laramie County Economic Development Joint Powers Board, according to published accounts.
The first phase, a 400-square-foot stand-alone building with 538 square feet of outdoor play and exhibit space, is expected to take about a year to build.
Meanwhile, the city is negotiating with a potential new developer of the Hynds building and the “hole.”
Joan Barron is a former reporter for the capitol bureau. Contact her at 307-632-2534 or [email protected]