The once bustling construction at the future site of University of Wyoming Plaza on Grand Avenue between 24th and 26th streets came to a halt in the summer. A tarp draped over a gaping hole on the tall brick structure of a partially constructed theater. Nearby equipment that sat unused slowly started filtering off the lot.
But in the last six weeks, the wheels have started turning again. Project Manager Paul Baker of River Valley Builders said he expects workers should be back on site by the middle of February.
Though construction efforts are gearing to begin ramping back up, a representative for the McMurry Group, the owners of UW Plaza, LLC., said the only certain plan at this point is to finish the theater.
“We do have hopes for additional plans, but nothing definitive,” said Tim Smith, operations manager for the McMurry Group.
Smith said there are discussions among the UW Plaza owners about what options to explore, but as of now, he is unable to say for sure.
A liquor license was purchased from the former Cowboy Bar on Third Street for use in the plaza more than a year ago by the Casper-based McMurry Group. There is currently no building at the 2415 Grand Ave. location identified in the agreement, but Bob Jensen, a consultant to the McMurry Group, said during a Laramie City Council meeting July 7 it will likely be a restaurant.
“The lot has been internally designated as a site for a restaurant,” Jenson said during the meeting. “We don’t have any specific restaurant yet, but we have some conversations going on with folks.”
The theater is still scheduled for a 10-screen design, but Smith said he did not know anything about the technical or operational features that are planned.
“We’re not the theater operator,” Smith said. “We’re just going to lease it to another company to operate.”
Delays also manifested in changing contractors to Casper-based River Valley Builders. Smith said he could not comment at this time as to why the contractor change occurred.
The delay in the project, Smith said, came after the death of Mick McMurry, a successful Wyoming businessman and philanthropist. Investigators ruled McMurry’s death a suicide, which, in statements released after his death, the family attributed to a difficult struggle with health problems after a major surgery.
Smith said McMurry was a strong supporter of UW and a fan of its athletics programs. McMurry thought the project could be a nice amenity for fans on game days, as well as throughout the year for the whole community, Smith said.
“Mick loved UW and the cowboys,” Smith said. “I think (the UW Plaza) was a standalone entity, but being right there next to the stadium was definitely a good thing.”
McMurry and his father were innovators in the natural gas business, including taking part in pioneering natural gas discovery from Jonah Field and Pinedale Anticline. In later years, McMurry and his wife donated to UW and other projects around the state through the McMurry Foundation.
A completion date for the theater could not be determined at this time, Smith said.