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Developers seek funds in record numbers

As many as seven entities in Teton County may apply for $10 million in state business aid.
By Benjamin Graham, Jackson Hole, Wyo.
January 09, 2013

Developers are asking government bodies in Jackson Hole to support a record number of grant applications for Wyoming Business Council funds this spring.

Seven projects are on the table, looking for an estimated $10 million.

Most of the proposals still need to go through a public hearing and then gain approval from officials. If they receive the OK, the number of projects coming from Teton County would be much higher than the norm.

“I have never had that many coming from one county,” said Roger Bower, a regional director at the business council. “Do I think it’s positive? Yes.”

Last year, no grants were awarded in the county, he said.

The business council has about $55 million at its disposal. It acts as a recommending body to the State Loan and Investment Board, which gives the final approval on the grants.

The large number of projects from Jackson Hole could hurt the chances of some gaining approval, Bower said.

“Some of our board members may look at it that way,” Bower said. “But technically it doesn’t” diminish the possibility that all the proposed grants go through.

“Theoretically, we have enough budget to fund all of them,” he said.

Aim to boost local economy

The town of Jackson is considering submitting applications for four grants, one each for Snow King Mountain Recreation, Imagine Jackson, Vertical Harvest and Center Management Inc., which operates the Snow King Sports and Events Center.

Only town, city and county governments, joint powers boards and American Indian tribes can apply for grants from the business council. The money is supposed to be used on public infrastructure that supports businesses and promotes economic development.

If the grants come through, the town would own the buildings or equipment associated with each project and lease them back to the developer or operator.

The Jackson Hole Energy Sustainability Project, which is a joint powers board, will apply for up to $1 million to buy the equipment needed to build a compressed natural gas station in Jackson. The equipment would be leased to an operator or property owner, who would run the station.

A new $18 million baggage claim to be built at the Jackson Hole Airport could partially be supported by the state program. The airport’s joint powers board decided to apply for a $2 million grant.

Money from the business council also could be used to connect the Adam’s Canyon area south of Jackson to the town’s sewer line. Teton County commissioners haven’t yet voted on whether they will pursue the grant.

Members of the business council consider whether a proposal would increase job or wealth creation, or make a community more livable, Bower said.

Applicants liable for projects

“When I evaluate a project I say, should the public be spending money on this,” Bower said. “The pubic deserves to look at all them, and I hope they participate in the vetting process.”

As for liability, the public entity that applied for the grant isn’t financially responsible as long as the project is completed as described in the application.

“Each applicant is personally responsible for each project to happen the way the application says it will,” Bower said. “If there’s a cost overrun, the [entity] is responsible for that.”

The town of Jackson could be taking on the most responsibility, even if only half the grants are approved. If one of the projects was to fail, the town would have to get rid of the building or equipment or find another use for it, Town Manager Bob McLaurin said.

Snow King Mountain Recreation would use the money to build mountain bike trails and add snow making and ski area improvements to the town hill.

Developers with Imagine Jackson want to purchase a building in North Jackson and convert it into shared office space for small businesses.

Vertical Harvest is a hydroponic greenhouse that would be built next to the town’s parking garage. It would employ residents with disabilities.

The Center Management Inc. team hopes to use the money to erect an ice rink next to the current Snow King Sports and Events Center. The space also would be used to host conferences.

Town officials plan to address the projects at a council meeting Feb. 4, after a public hearing. The deadline for the grants is March 1.

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