Business leaders created "nightmare" at "The Hole"This is the first of two columns on the downtown “hole” and the neighboring Hynds Building.
BY D. REED ECKHARDT
It’s a harsh thing when your words come back to haunt you.
Consider this from an editorial in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle:
“Our ‘nightmare’ scenario for downtown Cheyenne is that plans to renovate the Hynds Building will fall apart, and the ‘hole’ next door on West Lincolnway will remain unfilled.”
These words were printed on Aug. 7, 2016. That’s when the
Thanks to the city's business leaders, "The Hole" remains empty.
newspaper joined linked arms with the business community insiders at Cheyenne LEADS and the Greater Cheyenne Chamber of Commerce as well as with then-mayoral candidate Marian Orr and other naysayers. Their mission: to bully the proposed Children’s Museum of Cheyenne out of “The Hole” downtown.
All of them had imbibed the snake oil peddled by developer David Hatch. They were drunken with the idea that the Hynds Building could be turned into a palace for lawyers with “The Hole” as their private parking pen.
These community “leaders” applied their considerable influence to shame and embarrass museum creator and also then-mayoral candidate Amy Surdam into submission.
After all, Surdam was not one of “theirs.” She and the Downtown Development Association that she headed wanted the museum in “The Hole,” and they refused to be pushed around by the Chamber and LEADS. The insiders didn’t like this uppity woman, and she was standing in the way of their buddy’s big plans. She had to go.
Never mind that the Children’s Museum was a perfect fit for “The Hole.” Its potential as an engine to drive a downtown renaissance was immense. But no, the big timers were willing to drive a stake through its heart to promote the scheme of a man with major dreams and minor means.
The WTE willingly joined in, arguing the Children’s Museum was an extravagant boondoggle. A once-proud newspaper, which for more than 15 years had supported public efforts to create a thriving downtown, flew into the arms of the city’s business leaders. It has been there ever since.
And the visionless Orr was more than willing to pile on. She played to the naysayers, speaking against the museum and the proposed tax to fund it. Then she came up with a surprise move: She offered free land elsewhere for the museum. She pretended this was a grand gesture, but it was just another way to get the museum out of “The Hole” for her establishment buddies and to take down Surdam at the same time.
That Hatch never was going to be able to cobble the money together to develop the Hynds was obvious. He never would put enough of his own skin in the game, but he was very willing to suckle at the government’s teat. Uh, no. No agency was drinking that snake oil. Finally, in the fall of 2017, he threw in the towel.
And so, if you walk downtown now, you can see the WTE’s “nightmare” -- an empty hole and a vacant Hynds. The irony is, the newspaper played a major role in its creation.
As you stand in front of Ernie November’s downtown and look across the street at the still-empty “hole,” you have to wonder: What if the Chamber, and LEADS, and the WTE, and Mayor Orr, and the other naysayers had stood tall for the museum? Perhaps the tax would have failed, but the museum still might be in place, fighting for funding and trying to move ahead. And perhaps a thriving museum might have pumped fresh life into the Hynds.
The silence from all those who perpetuated this farce is deafening. Hatch is gone and LEADS, and the Chamber and Orr have done nothing except put up a pretty fence to hide the ugliness they helped to maintain.
Five years ago, these same people were saying that without something in “The Hole,” downtown never would prosper. Now it is not even as issue for them?
But perhaps their silence is driven by embarrassment. Embarrassed that they got taken by Hatch. Embarrassed that they bullied a project out of “The Hole” that might have saved downtown. Embarrassed that they browbeat someone who really cared about downtown, Surdam, to the sidelines.
As well they should be.
So what’s next for “The Hole” and the Hynds?
There is one idea that makes a lot of sense. Come back next time to find out what it is.
D. Reed Eckhardt is the former executive editor of the Wyoming Tribune Eagle.