Council to review grants

By Benjamin Graham, Jackson Hole Daily
February 04, 2013

Three proposals that aim to make Jackson a better place face Town Council scrutiny tonight.

The council will hold public hearings starting at 6 p.m. on proposals seeking a total of $4.5 million in state funds.

Snow King Mountain Recreation, Imagine Jackson and Vertical Harvest are asking the town to approve grant applications to the Wyoming Business Council. Included are work on Snow King Mountain, a campus for startup businesses and a big vegetable greenhouse.

If officials OK the applications, the town would apply to the business council for the money.

Pending approval from the business council, the town would own the property, buildings or equipment associated with each project and lease them back to the developer or operator.

The goal of the business council’s grant program is to fund projects that promote economic development. Only municipal governments, joint powers boards and American Indian tribes are eligible to apply on behalf of private entities.

The deadline for applications is March 1.

Developers working on each project contend their proposal merits taxpayer money, but the town could be on the hook for any of the endeavors that fail.

Imagine Jackson, a state-sanctioned community-development organization, is asking for $1.5 million to buy land next to Miller Park and construct a 4,000-square foot “innovative business campus.”

Mark Obringer, president of Imagine Jackson, hopes to have entrepreneurs, freelancers and others from Jackson Hole’s “creative class” share what he calls a “co-work space.”

Latham Jenkins’ firm Circ would be the anchor tenant. Jenkins is a minority partner in the groups that own the property, which totals .32 acres.

Imagine Jackson or the town could own the land after the purchase. Any profit earned by Imagine Jackson would go back into the project or be used for economic development, according to state guidelines.

Vertical Harvest hopes to build a three-story hydroponic greenhouse on town land next to the parking garage, if the group gets $1.5 million from the state.

Led by Nona Yehia and Penny McBride, Vertical Harvest aims to extend Jackson Hole’s short growing season and employ disabled people by cultivating produce year round.

Advocates have strongly supported the project over the past week, saying that it would benefit the community with fresh, locally grown vegetables while offering jobs.

Several restaurants and grocery stores, including Snake River Brewery and  Whole Grocer, have promised to buy produce from Vertical Harvest.

A handful of people have written with their worries. Some doubt the greenhouse will be able to grow vegetables during the winter and are concerned about price. Others fear that if the business fails the town would be left with a greenhouse.

Startup operating costs and construction are estimated at about $2.3 million. The group has raised just more than $1 million, Yehia said.

Snow King Mountain Recreation is asking for $1.5 million to build mountain bike trails, add more snowmaking machines and fund road, utility and bridge improvements on the town hill.

The entire project is estimated to cost $1.9 million.

The improvements are part of a plan rolled out for Snow King by Manuel Lopez, a partner of Snow King Mountain Recreation.

Earlier this month, the Town Council approved Lopez’s plans for a zipline.

The town previously had a similar agreement with Lopez for the Snow King Sports and Events Center.

Lopez’s group operated the center, which the town owns, but lost that privilege after it fell behind on maintenance and then stopped paying rent.




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