The Casper City Council voted 5-3 on Tuesday to accept the bids from two small businesses for two city-owned properties on South Ash Street downtown.

"Now we get to work," said Scott Cotton, owner of one of those businesses.

"It's time to put our plan in place and make the council happy with the decision they made," Cotton said after the two-and-a-half hour public hearing and discussion.

His 1890 Screen and Stitch company successfully bid $300,500 for the 10,500-square-foot former Ka-Lark's Gymnastics studio appraised at $300,000.

Ashby Construction, Inc., submitted the high bid for $220,000 for the former 13,500-square-foot Milo's Toyota Body Shop property appraised at $217,000,
Frosted Tops, LLC, a trendy dessert bakery submitted the a lower bid of $217,500 for the Milo's building. State law requires governments to accept the high bids for properties.

While Frosted Tops owner Kirstin Bott was disappointed she didn't get the building, she said the experience was valuable.

"We won, but I still lost," Bott said. "But I'm hopeful for the future. We have great plans."

The decision also ended the attempt by the Conference Center Consortium to locate a $70 million hotel-conference center on that site near the David Street Station.

Council members voting for accepting the bids were Bob Hopkins, Chris Walsh, Shawn Johnson, Dallas Laird and Mayor Kenyne Humphrey.

Those voting against were Ray Pacheco, Charlie Powell and Jesse Morgan. Amanda Huckabay was absent.

Tuesday's vote partially ended a real estate journey that began nearly two years ago when City Council voted to buy for $3 million the former Plains Furniture building in the 300 block of South David Street that included the mid-1920s properties on South Ash Street. The idea in 2016 was to demolish the buildings for a parking lot as downtown grew including the opening of the nearby David Street Station.

That idea stalled in August when demolition preparation work on the furniture building revealed the nearly intact remains of the 1920s-era Nolan Chevrolet Co. under the drywall. That discovery followed the uncovering of the entrance to the former Municipal Garage next to the city's original fire station just north of the furniture store.

The historic potential, among the city's goals of downtown redevelopment, caused City Council members to pause about other potential demolition.

In September, the city asked for requests for proposals for the three properties.

Ashby Construction, Frosted Tops and 1890 submitted their bids on time.

Everything seemed a go until the Conference Center Consortium's apparent last-minute appeal to the council to reconsider the bids. The consortium, with the advice of consultants, identified the area as a prime location for a $70 million hotel-conference center.

The proposal, with the backing of undetermined private investors, would need to cover a gap of upwards of $30 million, with Downtown Development Authority board chairman Brandon Daigle saying that could be bridged by public support, but not city funds.

Daigle and DDA Executive Director Kevin Hawley asked City Council to delay its decision about the Ash Street properties until it could come up with a solid plan by June.

The dispute filled City Council Chambers on Tuesday.

Former Casper City Council member Carol Crump started the public hearing with a brief history lesson how urban renewal nearly 50 years ago meant razing the Sandbar area to build city buildings and apartments.

Since then, urban renewal evolved to saving buildings and enhancing the city's history, Crump said.

John Huff, owner of the Old Yellowstone Garage, praised the idea of a hotel-conference center, but said it would be much better on the vacant lot at South Nichol Avenue on the south side of First Street.

Tom Heald said his Wyoming Plant Company, across the street from the three properties, said Ash Street is narrow to begin with and a three-year construction project would damage his and nearby businesses.

The business owners also spoke.

Cotton said he and the other two companies followed the rules. The City Council should represent them and not just major developers, he said.

Ashby Construction owner David Kelley echoed that, adding, "All I ask for as a business owner is for a fair shake."

Bott added she and her business want to be a part of the arts community including making edible art such as cupcakes.

Daigle and Hawley spoke in opposition to awarding the bids.

Daigle said the city recently took bids on other properties this year, rejected them and took bids again. It can do the same with these three.

Hawley said he's not against old buildings, but he's for the highest and best use of city-owned properties. "I urge you to pause and take a look at the big picture."

After the public hearing closed, Hopkins said the consortium's goal to find $30 million is virtually a lost cause. Applying for a grant from the Wyoming Business Council is a year-long process, and even if approved, probably would gain no more than $3 million, he said.

Pacheco said the request-for-proposal process for the Ash Street properties was a flawed process. He didn't know if he wanted a hotel-conference center, but he wanted more time to evaluate the possibilities.

Powell agreed a conference center is a long shot, but its benefits cannot be overstated.

He proposed an amendment that would hold the bids in abeyance until the consortium completed its work by June. The council could look at those plans, and if unacceptable, then sell the properties to the businesses.

However, Kelly, Cotton and Bott said they wanted a vote -- up or down -- Tuesday.

Powell's proposed amendment failed.

The council then voted to sell the properties.