Mercill builder chosen, no guarantee on Children’s Museum

JACKSON HOLE, WYO – County commissioners chose to go with Mercill Partners as the builder for affordable housing at 105 Mercill Avenue—a decision that appears to leave the Children’s Museum out in the cold, at least for now.

At a special meeting earlier this week, commissioners liked Mercill Partners’ use of underground parking, Mark Newcomb calling the proposal “impressive [in the] way it makes the numbers work.” But Newcomb expressed reservation about any proposal that did not intentionally include the Jackson Hole Children’s Museum on the ground floor. Only a plan submitted by the Housing Trust did so.

Finalists for Mercill build:

  • Westmount Development
  • Jackson Hole Community Housing Trust
  • Onion Flats
  • Mercill Partners

Chair Natalia Macker said she was not willing to make the Children’s Museum a sticking point in her decision and didn’t think it was appropriate to make its inclusion in any plan for affordable housing.

“I don’t think finding a home for the Children’s Museum is the top criteria for how we are making our decision today,” Macker said at Tuesday’s meeting, adding the focus should be on getting housing built. “ I would caution us not to make a decision based on the Children’s Museum.”

Macker added that anyone going into the ground floor—and there might be plenty of interest from social services organizations in the valley, Macker assured—would have to have an equal shot at doing so through an RFP.

Commissioner Mark Barron agreed, saying he wasn’t opposed to the Children’s Museum but worried about its ability to perform, financially. “I hope they can,” he said.

A proposal by Onion Flats was also praised by commissioners. Macker, for one, said she liked the contractor’s forward-thinking proposal.

Any notion of committing to having the Children’s Museum on the ground floor of a housing project on Mercill was quelled as beyond the scope of the decision at hand. The county has the first option to purchase the ground floor for some 18 months. Commissioner Greg Epstein estimated that would be a potential $5 million price tag if they wanted to buy it for the museum or some other institutional use.

Commissioner Luther Propst backed Newcomb on the community’s need for the museum or some form of daycare. He also liked the Housing Trust’s plan for some larger units which Propst thought would help local families stay longer in the community.

With no ability to lock in commitment for the museum, even a good faith head nod, Newcomb caved and the Mercill Partners proposal was voted for 4-1, with Propst in opposition.

The Housing Department will work with the developer in coming up with a final design plan for review in September.

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