Advisers to the State Loan and Investment Board — made up of Wyoming’s five statewide elected officials — had recommended the county receive $250,000, or half of its request. But lobbying by Park County Commissioner Tim French helped convince the board to instead pledge the full half a million dollars towards the $2.6 million multi-purpose facility the county plans to build.
“If we’re delayed or we can’t get any more funding, we’re going to do it, but it will be — no offense to anybody that has a cow barn, because I have one — but just a, you know, ‘Plain Jane’ thing,” French told the board at their Jan. 16 meeting in Cheyenne. “We want something that’s nice.”
He noted the commission and the fair board have already scaled back from an initial $6 million vision.
“We don’t want a Taj Mahal, but we have to have something that the community can use. It’s not just ... a building that’s used at fair time,” French told the officials. He noted the grounds host clothing drives, a Christmas program that gives to those in need, weddings and funerals — “you name it, it goes on there,” French said.
French explained the need that started with the large exhibit hall being effectively condemned and demolished in 2011. He told the board the remaining arts and crafts (small exhibit) and Clover halls are more than 70 years old. The commissioner described the new facility as desperately needed and an issue of safety.
“We’ve already delayed any start three years, nearly. Those other buildings have to come down,” French said.
Secretary of State Max Maxfield said he was familiar with the facilities and saw their replacement “as a health and safety need.”
However, he noted that the small exhibit and Clover halls will be used for the 2014 Park County Fair, with the new building coming in 2015.
“I’m questioning whether the timing is imminent,” Maxfield said.
“In our view it is,” responded French, adding that there’s just no way to put a new building in place for this year’s fair.
The State Loan and Investment Board had received 23 requests for funding that totaled $11.4 million. Office of State Lands and Investments Director Bridget Hill recommended giving out $6.05 million to 19 of the projects and leave a similar $6.05 million pot of money for the board’s June meeting.
“Many worthwhile projects have been submitted for board consideration, and the director does not question the merits of the projects submitted,” said a staff report. “Unfortunately, there is a limited amount of funding available to address the needs of the applicants over the course of the 2013/2014 biennium.”
Gov. Matt Mead asked French if Park County could re-apply for funding at the board’s June meeting.
“If we gave you $250,000 now, would that get you started, then you could come back and get the other $250,000?” Mead asked.
“We’re guaranteed that?” French responded.
Mead noted the board could not make a guarantee.
“I don’t mean to be flippant,” said French. “But ... we have to pull the trigger on this pretty soon. If we have to wait until the next SLIB meeting and keep our fingers crossed if we get the other $250,000, our fear is that we’ll affect the fundraising, too.”
He said potential donors could be discouraged if the county had to further pare the plans.
State Auditor Cynthia Cloud, who hails from Cody, gave the project her endorsement.
“In the Powell area, there isn’t really any community facilities except for The Commons — and it doesn’t have a kitchen either — for your community, for your class reunions, or your car shows or your horse shows,” Cloud said. “You don’t really have any of that.”
She noted county statistics show that some 50,000 people use the fairgrounds each year. The demolition of the large exhibit hall, “really left a hole,” Cloud said. She added that the county is fiscally conservative and doesn’t come before the board often.
Shortly after that, Mead, Cloud, Maxfield, Treasurer Mark Gordon and Superintendent of Public Instruction Cindy Hill unanimously approved the full $500,000.
“Soon as I heard the third aye, I’m like, ‘Yes!’” French recounted in a Friday interview.
Nerves kept the commissioner from sleeping much the night before the meeting and he said he got flustered and cotton-mouthed in his pitch to the board.
“Obviously, the message got across loud and clear,” Commissioner Joe Tilden said at this week’s commission meeting, praising French’s work.
French had traveled to Cheyenne the day before the meeting and made personal pitches to the five officials or their staffs.
“Long drive down, long drive back, tiring, but it was worth it — it was well worth it,” French said of the trip.
While a big step forward for the project, the commission and fair board have much more work ahead. Specifically, the money from the State Loan and Investment Board is contingent on the county raising another $500,000 from private individuals and businesses by the end of May.
Commissioners plan to meet with the fair board this coming Tuesday to discuss fundraising plans.
French said that with the state dollars in place, “everybody can get on board and get excited and hopefully we can get a bunch raised from the local people and companies and stuff where anything we can raise, we can a have a little better facility.”