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Saving More of Wyoming’s Older Buildings Could Boost Local Economies

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Wednesday, October 6, 2021   

RIVERTON, Wyo. - Community and economic-development leaders are gathering in Riverton this week for the 2021 Wyoming Working Together Conference, and advocates for historic preservation will make the case that saving the state's older storefronts, mansions and other structures can help Wyoming recover from the pandemic's economic fallout.

Thomas Tisthammer, president and founder of Wattle & Daub Contractors, has been renovating older buildings since 1978 and said investments in restoration go directly into local economies.

"Most of the money that goes into a restoration project is for labor, and the building materials are already there," he said. "So you're keeping stuff from going into the landfill as well. You're not tearing something down, scraping it off, and building something new."

Tisthammer said restoring historic structures generates $7 in economic activity for every $1 invested. He added that the cost of rehabbing most older buildings is about half the cost of a new building because you start out with at least a foundation, four walls and a roof already in place.

Casper-based architect Lyle Murtha said it's impossible to match the character of a 100-year-old building with new construction, and pointed to Old Stoney, a 100-year-old school in Sundance that sat empty for 40 years before he helped convert it into a museum and cultural center. After the town added an adjacent city park, Murtha said, Old Stoney now is both a community center and tourist destination.

"Once you tear a building down, it's gone forever," he said. "Even if you're rehabilitating it into some other use, at least some of that history, some of the fabric is still there. And I think people appreciate it."

Tisthammer said most people visiting Wyoming come to see the Old West, not a new mall. He noted that key restoration projects in Cheyenne have helped restore the city's historically vibrant downtown core.

"Buildings like the Union Pacific Depot and the Plains Hotel, they're really monumental sorts of buildings," he said. "They were anchors for the local economy, and then they were also places where people got together, they were a social center."


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Jim Liberty Cabin is on the site of Peak House, a hotel that was built in 1891 and eventually destroyed by a windstorm. (NH Division of Historical Resources)

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