SHERIDAN — The effort to transform the northern edge of Sheridan into a more attractive location for business development took another step forward last month.
At its monthly meeting in Thermopolis, the Wyoming Business Council recommended for approval a $1 million readiness grant intended to further improve physical infrastructure near the Wrench Ranch Hills commercial park.
Planners behind the request say the move is part of a larger effort to revitalize the north end of town while paving the way for continued private development in the years and decades to come.
“When you talk from an economic development standpoint, it’s critical you make investments in infrastructure because that’s what makes large-scale business development possible,” said Sheridan Planning Director Robert Briggs. “The more we can invest in that infrastructure, the more likely it is we can encourage private investment and development.”
If ultimately approved by the State Loan and Investment Board later this month, the grant will go toward funding additional sewer mains and a roughly 2,500-foot extension of Yellowtail Drive from its current terminus to the future sites of the Sheridan College large animal science facility and the First People’s Center for Education national teaching institute.
In addition to the $1 million grant, the city will contribute $500,000 from its capital program toward the project.
Currently, only a handful of businesses including Vacutech and Ptolemy Data Systems have constructed facilities at the northernmost edge of the city. Planners assert that if handled correctly, the Wrench Ranch and the Sheridan High Tech Business Park could become more attractive settings for private developments moving forward.
In that spirit, an additional $2.2 million project is underway to construct a water main loop that will provide redundant water services to the area while setting the stage for the installation of private utilities.
Funding for that project — covered mostly by the state — has already been secured.
Once completed, both projects stand to increase the value of private land at the Wrench Ranch as well as the several dozen acres owned by the Sheridan Economic and Educational Development Authority.
Previously donated to the group by local philanthropist Neltje, SEEDA maintains that land as a last resort option for interested businesses that have exhausted their private sector choices.
“We want to be your last choice, but we want you to feel that Sheridan is the best choice,” said SEEDA chairman John Heath. “We’ll work with anybody that has already exhausted those (private sector) options.”
In addition to the more concrete slate of projects currently planned to improve the northern edge of town, the nonprofit North Main Association is also working to make the area more conducive to the local business environment.
Concerns that the area lacks the vibrancy of Sheridan’s downtown and certain segments along Coffeen Avenue, the local group commissioned an extensive economic plan last year that board members hope will help guide decisions about future development in the area.
General aesthetics aside, the NMA hopes to attract private enterprises to the area as a means of helping it weather the uncertainty surrounding the upcoming relocation of the North Main Street Interstate-90 interchange.
Set to begin sometime in the next several years, the interchange will be moved about 3/4 of a mile north of its current location.
Planners from both the public and private sectors maintain that if handled properly, the change could help revitalize North Main, the Wrench Ranch and all of their surrounding areas.
As for city officials, they believe the proposed $1 million grant and its importance to a pair of highly anticipated educational facilities is imperative to the area’s overall redevelopment efforts.
“Education and economic development go hand in hand,” Briggs said.
And while upcoming changes to the interstate are still several years down the road, stakeholders seem to agree that early planning is essential if the north end of Sheridan is to live up to its economic potential.
“This stuff is way out there, but we’ve got to start thinking about it now,” Heath said.