By Bill Sniffin, publisher emeritus
Cheyenne is such a terrific western cowtown. Even despite the wind.
We just spent four days in the Capitol City and this place and its people are just so doggoned wonderful.
Let’s talk about three monumental buildings – the State Capitol Building, the Union Pacific Depot, and St. Mary’s Catholic Cathedral.
After $300 million spent on the Capitol complex, the building is now refurbished and stands as one of the most beautiful state capitol buildings in the country.
Mike Moser and Jonathan Downing gave us a brief tour and I am eager to go back and see even more. This place deserves an entire column, but let’s just say this amazing building belongs to all of us – and it is doing us proud.
The Union Pacific Depot building mirrors the State Capitol and the two huge buildings are bookends on Capitol Avenue. For most of our history the people in these two buildings truly guided the economic fortunes of our state.
The Depot also houses the offices of Visit Cheyenne, where Dominic Bravo and Jim Walter make sure Cheyenne is promoted everywhere. Last year was the city’s best-ever for tourism revenue. It was also announced that Frontier Days did $40 million in local economic impact in 2021, compared to the 2018 figure of $27 million.
We attended Ash Wednesday services at the cathedral and heard Father Tom Cronkleton say he was giving up cigars and limburger cheese for Lent. And he doesn’t smoke! He was joking, of course and then gave us an inspirational message.
This Cathedral is so spectacular. The woodwork is as good as I have ever seen. Bishop Steven Biegler was not around on this day.
We were staying in the massive Red Lion hotel, where Jennifer Walker took good care of us. It sits high over Cheyenne. Every day when we left the hotel we could take in what would be called “The Skyline.” Big bank buildings and old restored buildings like the Plains Hotel show progress. I love the Tivoli Building, which was restored by former Gov. Matt Mead and his wife Carol, and is now owned by Sam Galeotos. Sam’s restaurant The Metropolitan in downtown Cheyenne is terrific.
I normally use Thermopolis transplant Pat Schmidt as my Cheyenne tour guide, but we did not catch up on this trip. We finally went out and looked at the NCAR super computer site and the Microsoft server center. Not a lot of employees but it sure is futuristic.
Cheyenne was hosting the Governor’s State Tourism Conference and we got to see folks from all over the state. Wyoming was bursting at the seams in tourism with 2021 the best year ever, by far. We think 2022 might be even a little better.
Casper Hotelier Renee Penton Jones won the BIG WYO Award this year, the top honor from the hospitality industry. Congrats to her. Other past winners include author Chuck Box of Saratoga, John Johnson and Pat Sweeney of Casper, Dave Freudenthal and Darren Rudloff of Cheyenne, Ted Blair and Rick Hoeninghausen of the Cody-Yellowstone area and yours truly – we all posed for a photo with the newest winner.
Former Gov. Freudenthal claimed he is somewhat retired and says he “is just an old country lawyer from Thermopolis.” Yeah sure. His wife Judge Nancy Freudenthal looked dazzling at the event.
Gov. Mark Gordon presented the honor to Renee and was in fine form. He and wife Jennie sure make an impressive First Couple. I teased him that he is not going to have any formidable competition in this year’s GOP primary. It is because of what he went through in the last four years that was so awful, nobody wants the job!
Debbie Disney Pummel of Casper hosted us at the banquet. She is a hero of Wyoming hospitality, always working unselfishly for the industry.
Saw a lighter-weight version of State Sen. Ogden Driskill, R-Devils Tower, during the events. He has lost over 125 pounds. From 360 to 235, well done.
A few of the other statewide tourism leaders attending the conference were Ken Patel of Laramie, Paula McCormick, Florian Hermann, and Owen Sweeney of Lander, Shawn Parker of Sheridan, Ken Barkey of Gillette, Leslie Jefferson of Rawlins, Jenissa Meredith of Rock Springs, Ryan Hauck and Tim O’Leary of Cody, Anna Olson and Alex Klein of Jackson, and many, many others. Sorry if I omitted some key players.
I can’t write about tourism with a big shout-out to Chris Brown and his crew for organizing the private sector and also to Diane Shober, who heads the state Division of Tourism. Both are causing the industry to reach its potential.
When not attending the conference, we roamed all over Cheyenne and put both the Veterans Hospital and F.E. Warren Air Force Base on my bucket list for future tours. Both are amazing facilities.
Can’t finish a column about Cheyenne without mentioning the Wyoming State Museum. We did not get there on this trip, but it is a wonderful resource to the state. The State Archives are there, too, and with proper clearance, you could spend weeks there.
In all, visiting Cheyenne was a terrific experience. Only downside is that we did not have time to see everything. We plan to go back later this year. This place belongs to all Wyomingites and we are sure proud of how it has evolved over the years.