SHERIDAN — Sheridan’s City Council this week voted to forgive debt the WYO Performing Arts and Education Center owed the city, which will help the center move forward on a number of planned improvements to the building.

The WYO’s board of directors asked that the city forgive $83,112.32 it owes the city in exchange for an investment in the continued remodeling and expansion of the city-owned building.

WYO Executive Director Erin Butler explained the debt is the result of planned improvements to the building that have not begun.

“Essentially, to finish the entire project, we need to raise that much money to continue and complete the project,” Butler said. “Counting everything that needs to be done, this is where we’re at now.”

The city plans to use Optional One-Cent Sales Tax revenues from the city’s fiscal year 2020 budget to make up for the forgiven debt.

While the city owns the building that houses the theater, the WYO manages it, which tasks the organization with covering maintenance costs and the costs of improvements to the building.

In exchange for the city’s investment, the WYO will make a conference room — which is currently under construction and will be named the City of Sheridan Community Conference Room — available to community members.

Members of council and city staff described the WYO as an essential part of Sheridan’s downtown in expressing their support for the debt forgiveness.

“(The WYO) is kind of the crown jewel of Sheridan, Wyoming,” said Councilor Aaron Linden. “Month in and month out, in the coldest of Februaries, there are things going on there when nothing else is happening in this town.”

Community Development Director Brian Craig said Sheridan was featured in the American Planning Association’s July magazine in an article about how Sheridan’s arts culture was contributing to the city’s continued growth while most rural city’s are seeing their populations decline.

“The WYO theater was mentioned as the centerpiece of that arts culture,” Craig said.

Councilor Patrick Henderson pointed out the city has offered similar assistance to other organizations in the city, such as The Hub on Smith and the YMCA, and the community has benefited as a result.

“We need to maximize the community resources we have and I think this is a wonderful opportunity to do that,” Henderson said.

Mayor Roger Miller reiterated that the city owns the property the WYO is improving.

“I think this is an investment in our building, in the city’s building, which is the public’s building,” Miller said. “And I think it is a good expenditure of our tax dollars.”

Gene Sturlin, chair of the WYO board of directors, said with the forgiveness of the debt to the city, the WYO is still carrying $25,778 in debt.

Recently, the Wyoming Cultural Trust Fund also awarded the WYO a $15,000 grant, which will contribute to renovations to studio spaces on the theater’s third floor; that grant requires the WYO contribute $15,000 in matching funds to the project, Sturlin said.