SHERIDAN — The city held an open house to present possibilities for improving downtown in conjunction with a Wyoming Department of Transportation resurfacing project in 2023.

WYDOT will begin its resurfacing project on Main Street, from Burkitt Street to Dow Street, in 2023, and the city is exploring ways it can partner with WYDOT and capitalize on this project to improve Sheridan’s downtown.

Jim Charlier, the president of Charlier Associates, a transportation planning firm the city is consulting on the project, said he and the other consultants on the project were on hand to help the community identify options the city can pursue in improving its downtown, rather than prescribe solutions.

He added that Main Street is already a functional, thriving commercial hub, but it will need to adapt to shifting economic realities to remain that way. 

Charlier said there are two looming factors that will force the street to change. The first trend is an older population of business owners who will retire and, in many cases, let their stores retire with them. As those stores turn over, the city will also have to cope with the continued influence of online retailers on people’s shopping habits.

“You have to have a strategy to make Main Street stronger; it’s not, ‘How do we keep Sheridan the way it is,’ because that’s not possible,” Charlier said.

Strengthening Main Street will likely mean making it more of a destination. Charlier noted that one of Sheridan’s advantages is that it is a regional hub; because there are no other major cities nearby, people in the region rely on Sheridan for retail options. To keep people coming to Sheridan, the city will need to explore “placemaking” strategies that will encourage people to visit and stay in town. 

One option the city has been exploring with consultants is making downtown more pedestrian friendly. 

“The best way to get somebody to pull over and stop is if they see a lot of people on the sidewalk,” Charlier said.

He added that Sheridan can likely develop its recreational and tourism opportunities further as well.

Making Sheridan a destination will also fit into its broader economic development strategy. Both Charlier and Jillian Sutherland, the program director of Community Builders, a nonprofit community consulting firm, said people in younger generations are deciding where they want to live and then figuring out where they can work in their desired location.

“The old model of trying to attract a corporation to town doesn’t really work anymore,” Charlier said.

Sutherland added that Community Builders conducted a survey of thousands of employees throughout the Western region in 2015, and 83 percent of the respondents indicated they would choose to live in an ideal community over taking a higher salary elsewhere.

“That’s what this project is really about: how can you make Sheridan the best community possible?” Sutherland said. “That is what is going to bring the people, bring the businesses and make people want to be here.”

She added that Sheridan’s willingness to partner with WYDOT and use the resurfacing project as an opportunity to address broader community improvement was a step in the right direction toward addressing these trends.

“That’s why we wanted to partner with Sheridan on this project; it’s really progressively minded,” Sutherland said. “It’s the way communities need to be thinking about economic development these days.”

Scott Taylor, a district construction engineer with WYDOT, said his agency will begin formal plans for the resurfacing project in about a year. He added that any proposal the city makes will be considered in the planning of the process.