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The Ford Wyoming Center marks 40 years and looks to the future of hosting more events

The Ford Wyoming Center, formerly known as the Casper Events Center, is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. It’s hosted some of the biggest names in entertainment, music, politics, and sports over the last four decades. Wyoming Public Radio’s Hugh Cook spoke with Brad Murphy, the facility’s general manager, about its history, how it’s celebrating 40 years, and its future.

Brad Murphy: Our city leaders had great vision in the late 70s, in the early 1980s, and they came up with the idea to pass a one cent tax that would fund a $22.6 million facility on top of the hill overlooking Casper that would bring in entertainment across the board to our city. And through that process, they were able to build what was then called the Casper Events Center.

Hugh Cook: The Event Center was purely funded by the one percent sales tax revenues?

BM: Yes, that's correct. So, I mean, it was a one-time shot and fully paid for. The building itself, Hugh, was paid off before it was even built. You don't see that today very often.

HC: Over the last 40 years. What are some of the names that have passed through Casper?

BM: Oh, boy, I mean, you're talking the biggest of the big that: Garth Brooks and Metallica, the Elton Johns, the Eric Churchs the Carrie Underwoods, the Bob Hopes, you know, the Jeff Dunhams, the Gabriel Iglesiases lately. And now coming up, we've got Snoop Dogg who reinvented himself and is just a major act now and Journey, who is playing in their 50th anniversary celebration of being a group. They played in the building in 1982. And now they'll be playing again in 2023, so really exciting for that kind of an act to come back.

HC: Was there anything special that marked the 40th anniversary? I know the logos had made an appearance [for] the 40th anniversary, but were there any specific events or initiatives to help celebrate four decades?

BM: It's been a yearlong celebration. It was a collaborative partnership between the Ford Wyoming Center, Visit Casper, the City of Casper, and Natrona County to really trumpet it and capsulize the building, you know, get it out there in front of social media and have events. We had the three art walks downtown where we went to Nicolaysen [Art Museum] and Scarlow’s and to [Art] 321. I mean, just showcasing the posters and the tickets and the pictures from the Ford Wyoming Center. And we're going to celebrate it in grand fashion on December 10 when we have Sawyer Brown playing. Sawyer Brown is the most played acts in the history of the building. They've already played for 30,742 people, this will be their ninth appearance in the building. We only felt it was fitting to have them and then to have our own aspect too and that's Chancey Williams and Josh Dorr, I mean, local Wyomingites who are great for our state, and really, they posterized our state and get us out there in front of the whole nation. So that's why December 10 is really that capitalizing last event to say, ‘Hey, thank you Ford Wyoming Center, thank you, City of Casper, thank you to our community.’

A collage of Ford Wyoming Center Acts
Ford Wyoming Center
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Some of the events that were hosted at the Casper Events Center in its early years.

HC: Does the Ford Wyoming Center host as many shows and conferences and activities as it once used to? Or has there been a bit of a change in that over the past 40 years?

BM: So really, we've kind of morphed into more, I would say, diversified programming, the fact that we host all of the state high school tournaments inside our building, which is volleyball, marching band, state spirit, wrestling, two sections of basketball. And that has changed somewhat, the programming as far as available dates. So, I mean, you may not see as many concerts, but you still have as many event days, probably more because of the nature of the type of events that we host now, which are more multi-type days.

HC: With entertainment and sports arenas throughout the country, even those around the same age as the Ford Wyoming Center, they've often been expanded upon or torn down to build new facilities or retrofitted looking forward. What is the future of the Ford Wyoming Center for the coming years, say, even the next 40 years? What do you think the future looks like for the facility?

BM: Well, for the building itself, yeah, I mean, we've had a master plan done, you know, a complete renovation master study completed that would include the expansion of the arena with some VIP experience areas, like suites and walk out areas, and then also the addition of a banquet/convention center that would be attached to the building. I think it's really important that we continue to grow and expand and move that dial forward and that's how we're going to do it. We have to remodel our building. It's been a wonderful, wonderful building, but it's tired. It's 40 years old, and it's seen a great life occupancy, but now we need to give it some TLC and really gear in on those VIP experiences and what our customers want today.

HC: Some of that TLC and those experiences, in addition to luxury suites and things like that, what are the other aspects of improving the facility after four decades?

BM: I think infrastructure’s really important. We've got heating, we've got ventilation, we've got plumbing, all those types of areas, too, that need to be upgraded now, and that's the stuff that people don't see, but are very important to the overall day to day operations of the building. So, yeah, we have all those interior needs as well.

HC: Are those original to the building or have those since been upgraded over the last 40 years?

BM: Oh, that's the kicker, Hugh. They are original. So you know, that's cast iron pipe for plumbing, the original duct work for airflow, you know, that's the type of stuff. The electrical panels are still the original. That's really what we have to do is to get up into the 21st century with our infrastructure so that it's manageable and efficient and works well for us. The technology of the 1980s really isn't what it is like today and so we've got to get that all upgraded so we're more up to date with all the technology.

HC: In terms of the economic impact to Casper, Natrona County and Wyoming, what has that been like with the Ford Wyoming Center over previous decades?

BM: I mean, our building brings in annually [an] economic impact of $25 [million] to $30 million a year into our economy. In our most recent study that provides 287 full time jobs. That’s somebody who works at a restaurant, or somebody who's cutting meat at a grocery store, or somebody who's selling clothes that our retail stores, because we bring in those kinds of numbers and those people from all over our state and our region that brings more money into our economy. And that's really what we hang our hat on is the economic impact that we bring to our city and those jobs that we provide.

HC: Is there anything else you'd like to add or expand upon?

BM: I think that it's been a grand building, and we're going to continue to dial forward and move it forward. You know, we've got youth sports that are looking at coming into our city and with the addition of the WYO-Plex on the ground to the Ford Wyoming Center, that changes the game plan completely. Now we can become a state, regional and possibly national hub for big time use events so I'm excited about it.

Hugh Cook is Wyoming Public Radio's Northeast Reporter, based in Gillette. A fourth-generation Northeast Wyoming native, Hugh joined Wyoming Public Media in October 2021 after studying and working abroad and in Washington, D.C. for the late Senator Mike Enzi.
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