March 1, 2004 By Jim McKay, Justice and Public Safety Editor
Called the Corridor, this area along the old Yellowstone Highway, was recently deemed a blighted area suitable for redevelopment by the City Council.
The old Yellowstone Highway was once the principal route through town. After the interstate was built, lack of traffic and two abandoned railways that bisected the area ruined business. A nearby 360-acre oil refinery, abandoned in 1991 by Standard Oil, added to the area's blight. The company, now BP Amoco, is still cleaning up the area, and expects to continue for the rest of 2004.
The city plans to replace the abandoned oil refinery with an 18-hole golf course, a small office park and possibly a performing arts center. These additions are part of a renewal plan designed to redevelop the 157-acre Corridor.
Planning for Redevelopment
The City Council convened the Casper Urban Renewal Agency to form a process for getting businesses to reinvest in the area and clean it up. Thus began the redevelopment plan. The city is using GIS software to access and organize the Natrona County assessor's data for evaluation and categorization of properties relative to age, condition and value.
Property evaluation is key to the renewal process. An understanding of land use, age of buildings, how buildings are constructed, property vacancy, infrastructure capacity and current infrastructure demands are essential to identify opportunities for renewal and the barriers involved.
That's where GIS comes in. The city already had the GIS software and was using it to develop more links to county information. The renewal agency used GIS maps to display properties and buildings and link them to key data from the county assessor.
The data is housed in a newly created Microsoft Access database, according to Patricia McKenzie, president of Stellar Programming and Consulting, who worked with the city on the project. The database is a subset of the main assessor database.
Locations of properties and buildings are shown as polygons on GIS maps made from aerial photos the county took in the early 1990s. Each polygon links to the database and reveals the property's history. Each building was given an ID number. Either the address or ID number can be used to reference the property in the database.
Linking data in the database to specific locations on the GIS maps was the hard part and took about two years, McKenzie said.
"You have to go to each [property], put a point on the map and type in the address," she said.
The area contains more than 900 land parcels, some of which have five or more buildings, making for a labor-intensive process of labeling each building and land parcel. Each property is also geographically coded with coordinates of its location.
"Going out and doing fieldwork makes sense and could have been accomplished with this size area, but we knew the information was available in the county Assessor's Office," said David Hough, director of Housing and Community Development for the city. "We saw the need to get a sound inventory and good background information on all the properties in the Corridor. We wanted to have a complete database on ownership, land description and trends."
No Bulldozers This Time
The city has experience with this type of project. In 1979, an area called the Sandbar just north of the Corridor was notorious as a reliable location to find prostitutes. So the city established the area as an urban renewal corridor.
The difference then was they did it the old-fashioned way -- without GIS, Hough said.
All over the country, community leaders are looking to boost economic development through various initiatives. One key element in many of those initiatives is the use of information technology. When local governments build IT infrastructure, create e-government applications, assist high-tech startups or otherwise focus on technology, they create conditions that draw businesses to their communities and help retain skilled workers. This paper discusses and provides examples of these various ways local government can use technology to ultimately make a community more attractive to businesses, visitors and residents.