ROCK SPRINGS — The First Security Bank Building has dominated the downtown Rock Springs skyline for a hundred years. Like the city, the building has seen its share of highs and lows over the last century.
Built in 1919, the Bank Building spent decades as a business center in the community and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1980. The building is an intricate and unique example of terra cotta architecture and “stands as a credit to the town,” according to the National Register nomination form.
However, younger residents of the area may think of the building more as a ghostly specter that looms over downtown. Vacant, boarded up, falling apart and home only to pigeons. But now, a number of local officials are hoping to change all that over the next few years.
The Rock Springs City Council has approved matching funds to move forward with going after grant money to restore the building. “Obviously First security bank is an anchor corner, an anchor building in downtown Rock Springs. It has been significant to our history for a long time, it has also been vacant for a very long time,” Urban Renewal Agency Manager Chad Banks said at a special City Council meeting on August 7.
If you ask anyone who wants to see the building restored, you’ll hear the same sentiment. The project is not just about one building, it’s about improving the downtown as a whole. Zoom out again, and the effort is bigger than downtown, it’s about improving the quality of life in the entire community.
“We want to think this is a snowball effect,” Rock Springs Mayor Timothy Kaumo said. “It instills a little pride in the other business owners and then they see the desire and the demand for people to want to be located downtown.”
The Bank Building represents a unique opportunity for the city to get the snowball rolling. There are plenty of other buildings downtown that are vacant or in disrepair, but it’s up to the private owners of those buildings to fix them. Mayor Kaumo hopes that restoring a structure as significant as the First Security Bank Building can motivate investment from other property owners.
“My theory is, if you build it they will come. And I think it will improve some of the areas adjacent to it, maybe spur some of the landowners to improve their buildings that may be near to it and increase business opportunities.” Kaumo said.
THE CLOCK IS TICKING
Like any structure, the longer the Bank Building sits empty, the less likely it becomes that it can be restored. Still, all indications are that the building is in good shape considering how long it’s been vacant. “The assessments have essentially said the building is in relatively good condition for its age and for the years that it’s been vacant and it has a lot of redeeming historical features as well,” said Jerry Myers of Myers Anderson Architects. Even so, a building that has been sitting empty for nearly four decades will eventually reach a tipping point for either being saved or discarded.
The city applied for, and did not receive, grant funding for the building in 2011. However, there is confidence that this latest effort is in a better position to succeed than eight years ago. “In 2011 the city applied for a business committed grant for the project. This would be a readiness grant, which does not have as high of a threshold as the business committed grant,” Banks said.
Mayor Kaumo stressed his sense of urgency in securing funding this time around. “I hope we’re successful this time. The building is getting older and it’s hard to maintain. The longer it sits without maintenance, we’ll most likely be looking at removing the building, which is costly and it’s not good. It’s a historic landmark for the state of Wyoming and especially the city of Rock Springs and we want to make sure that we save it for generations to come,” Kaumo said.
WHAT COULD BE
The business readiness grant from the Wyoming Business Council would go towards getting the building structurally sound and ready for more extensive renovations. The first phase of the project would be to secure the building, stabilize the structure, add new stairways and an elevator and add infrastructure to bring in new utilities. That phase of the project would take around a year-and-a-half.
Next, once businesses are committed to using the building, is when renovations to get the building ready for occupancy would happen. After renovations, the city will sell the building to a private sector buyer. Money from the sale would go towards paying back matching funds the city would put towards the project and part of the state grant funding.
The aim is to attract private investment and spur economic development. Kaumo has been clear that the city has no interest in operating as a landlord or longterm owner. The goal is to get the building off the city’s books without having to tear it down.
“The design of the interior will be driven by what types of businesses and who’s going to go inside the building in phase two,” Kaumo said.
“The goal is an open space downstairs. There’s a mezzanine between the first and second floor that could be rented for parties, for social gatherings … Office space on the second and third floors and maybe even an opportunity for livability space on the third floor,” Kaumo said.
The mural in the bank drive-thru on the building’s Broadway Street side won’t stay if the restoration moves forward. The restored building won’t need a drive-thru, that part of the building would be enclosed into the interior.
To see historical photos of the building, click here.