November 24, 2009

As Wyoming’s third largest city (population 30,000) and the county seat for Albany Co., Laramie long had the potential to be an economic powerhouse.  Despite being the home of the University of Wyoming (UW), the state’s only university, Laramie’s shortage of facilities and overnight accommodations to support visitors for academic conferences, sporting events, trade shows and other UW events meant that UW’s presence alone would do little to draw outside visitors or stimulate Laramie’s economy.

Former UW President Dr. Phil Dubois saw the City’s lack of amenities and UW’s large swathe of barren land in the heart of town as the perfect opportunity for both entities. By developing an upscale hotel and conference center, UW would put the vacant land back on the City’s tax roll, provide a site for conferences and events, generate jobs for Laramie residents, and create lodging that would better meet the needs of UW and the community.  After several years of searching for a developer, it became clear to UW that the project would need significant subsidy to attract a viable bidder.

UW raised about $6 million to seed the project. Through the Wyoming Business Council, the National Development Council (NDC) joined the project team to fill the financing gap.  NDC tapped into its New Markets Tax Credit allocation to make an $11 million qualified equity investment with investment partner US Bank. With the project financing in place, developer HIS Laramie was secured to build a 135-room Hilton Garden Inn and adjoining 600-person conference center.

Although UW initially struggled to get the project off the ground, once the Hilton Garden Inn and Conference Center was announced, other hotel developers flocked to the area to meet the newly-created demand for mid-level, business-oriented hotels. In addition to bringing new lodging, 112 jobs and desperately-needed tax revenue to the City, the Hilton spurred a new mixed-use development next to the hotel which includes 30,000 square feet of office space, 58,000 square feet of retail space and 10 high-end game day condominiums. The development is approximately 40% complete with tenants ranging from a book store to restaurants and is expected to create 200 jobs when fully occupied.

The turnaround since the Hilton Garden Inn and Conference Center opened in February 2008 has been dramatic. Over 1,200 events have been hosted at the facility drawing thousands of new visitors to Laramie.  With the University of Wyoming Philosophy Conference, the Fireman’s Ball, and the Wyoming Mining Convention under its belt, the City of Laramie has set its sights on even bigger opportunities including the Republican National Convention and a major motion picture.