The famous movie line, “If you build it, they will come,” could apply to the new conference center and hotel that’s coming to Powell. However, a more appropriate description might be the less catchy, “They would have come, but we missed them, because we hadn’t built it.”
That was the message relayed by multiple community leaders who wrote letters of support for the proposed facility, which is slated to open on Powell’s western edge in 2020.
State leaders approved $2.6 million for the new conference center last week, and those public dollars are critical in making the whole project a reality. But we believe the widespread community support is just as crucial as the public funding.
Two dozen residents and entities wrote letters of support, testifying to the need for the new facility. We were impressed that the messages came from a wide range of local government agencies and businesses, including the community’s three largest employers: Powell Valley Healthcare, Northwest College and Park County School District No. 1.
Together, the letters paint a clear picture of why we need additional lodging and a conference center. Here’s a sampling of those statements:
• Allie Winckler, director of Powell Gottsche: “We have yearly company-wide get-togethers within our different locations across Wyoming. Powell has not been a host for these occasions due to lack of housing and space to have the company as a whole meet. The establishment of the hotel and conference center would allow us to bring in other members of our company to Powell and support our community.”
• Todd Ernst, market president of Pinnacle Bank in Powell: “As Powell has grown in both size and function there has not been an increase in lodging availability in over 25 years. With a community college, county fair, vibrant economic development program, regional events and tournaments, as well as our proximity to tourist attractions, the time has come to increase overnight lodging and conference capabilities.”
• Colby Stenerson, director of the Powell Recreation District: “Many teams and participants have personally expressed their dissatisfaction with finding acceptable and suitable lodging when considering to enter an event in Powell. Teams will either choose not to register for an event or will opt to stay in Cody. Either way, Powell loses out.”
• Dakota Russell, interim executive director of the Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation: “Cody dominates the lodging market, and it is a struggle to convince visitors to leave the city and come to our museum. A modern hotel in Powell would offer an enticement for visitors to leave the Cody city limits, and bring us new visitors. We also expect we would see increased visitation and revenue from groups using the conference center.”
• Rep. Jamie Flitner, R-Greybull: “The opportunity to provide jobs and lodging opportunity for a growing leisure and business sector goes without saying. Who wouldn’t want that?! This has the potential to inject much needed revenue locally and statewide.”
• Dusty Spomer, CEO of GDA Engineers: “Our existing/available spaces are either undersized, lack in what they can support (catering), are separated from lodging or are dated/lack appeal. I don’t mean to slight the hard-working lodging business owners. They do serve a need as well. The new hotel/conference center would just meet the needs/demand that current facilities cannot. Currently, if I were bringing a business meeting to Powell, I would make arrangements in Cody for meeting space and lodging.”
• Stefani Hicswa, president of Northwest College: “The addition of a conference center with food service capabilities has the ability to enhance the college’s workforce training opportunities in hospitality management as well as provide internship opportunities for our students.”
• Teecee Barrett, events coordinator for Park County: “With many improvements done on the grounds in the last couple years, I feel that the addition of this facility would be an asset. Attracting larger events to the facility that have a duration of more than a day has been a challenge for my department with the lack of lodging accommodations in Powell.”
While this widespread backing for the new conference center and hotel is important now, it’s even more critical going forward, as the success of a facility of this magnitude hinges on the community’s continued support. If local leaders don’t draw conferences, workshops and other events to the new center/hotel in coming years and work to help promote the new venue, it will struggle to stay open.
However, we know many Powellites have longed for a project like this for years and will do whatever they can to ensure its success. Because you have to do more than just build it to get visitors to come.