Saturday, May 16, 2015

This shouting and cane shaking is thirsty business

Great to see that Amy Surdam has been named the new executive director of the Cheyenne Downtown Development Authority/Main Street. The organization has been looking for a new director since the departure of Christie DePoorter last year.

Surdam was one of the founders of the Children's Museum of Cheyenne, which will be built sometime soon in "The Hole" downtown. That organization came up with a plan to fill "The Hole," something that the city has been working on for a decade. She and her colleagues get kudos for action in the face of widespread inaction.

Surdam is a nurse practitioner who managed the CRMC Urgent Care Center when it opened near downtown in 2012. She also is a major in the Wyoming Army National Guard. Married to a CRMC ER doctor, she was quoted in this morning's Wyoming Tribune-Eagle as someone who "loves our downtown" and wants to "create a place where my own children will want to return to live and work."

That's the crux of the matter, isn't it? Where will our kids want to live when they're in their 20s and 30s? Good jobs are one thing. Quality of life is another. While young people may find work in Cheyenne, they often choose to live south of the border in Wellington, Fort Collins or Greeley, Colorado. Many would rather live in the college town of Laramie and face the treacherous daily winter commute over the pass than live in Cheyenne. This week, the Laramie City Council passed a measure that would prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation. This is the first municipality in the state to pass such a measure, an effort that's regularly defeated by the Know Nothings in the State Legislature. Laramie, off course, was the site of Matthew Shepard's murder in 1998.

Laramie's downtown is a happening place. I say this as a 64-year-old soon-to-be-retiree. Let's go over to Laramie, ma, and get one of those Geritol-laced lattes at Coal Creek Coffee, sit outside on the patio and watch the trains rumble by. I'd rather be perusing the shelves at Night Heron Books or lunching at Sweet Melissa's. But you get the idea. Downtown Laramie is full of life while Cheyenne is still working on it. Lots of credit goes to Trey Sherwood, director of the Laramie DDA/Main Street org.

I think Cheyenne may have found a similar dynamo in Ms. Surdam.

The City of Cheyenne received some good news this week. The feds have pledged $3 million to the city's West Edge Project. The city now has $15 million to get that project going. It will transform the west end of downtown into a network of parks, business and living spaces. You can find out more about it here. One of the more intriguing ideas in this effort is an idea to take renovated historic railroad cars, park them on spurs and turn them into bistros and shops. The city is working on this with the High Plains Railroad Preservation Association. This is a terrific way to celebrate Cheyenne's heritage, a city founded in 1867 as a "Hell on Wheels" railroad camp.

The Cheyenne DDA/Main Street has some funding challenges, as we've been reading about lately. Local naysayers don't see the value of a vibrant downtown development organization. They often get the most ink and air time because they're the loudest and crankiest. You kids get out of my downtown! This gray-headed, cane-wielding (knee replacement surgery) old guy could be one of the cranky ones. But if you see me down at the Depot Plaza shaking my cane at a group of young people, I'll probably be saying something like: Welcome to our downtown, kids. Spend your time and money down here, and don't forget to volunteer for some of DDA/Main Street's fine projects. And while you're at it, fetch me an IPA from Freedom's Edge or the Cheyenne Brewing Company. This shouting and cane-shaking is thirsty business.

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