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CASPER, Wyo. — A plan to build a hotel and conference center near downtown Casper cleared a major hurdle this week when the City Council informally approved a $5.1 million lease for 18 acres of former refinery land.

The city structured the lease so it could spend money on the project without being responsible for cleaning the land if something goes wrong. The lease also protects the city if the government takes any part of the land and development for cleanup down the road.

The city, which plans to sublease the land to the developer, would be able to terminate the lease, and the Amoco Reuse Agreement Joint Powers Board would be required to repay the money if the project fell through for any reason.

The lease is in front of BP attorneys for review.

The Amoco refinery sat on what is now the Platte River Commons for 75 years. When the refinery closed, taking with it over 200 jobs, a partnership between the company and the community worked to put that land back to use. Three Crowns Golf Course opened there in 2005.

Local hotelier JJM Group Hotels and real estate developer Refined Properties envision a 48,000-square-foot conference facility, a 200-room luxury hotel and a high-end restaurant and lounge to join the golf course across the street.

“This project will literally replace all the jobs that were ever out on the Amoco property in one fell swoop,” said Councilman Bob Hopkins. “We’ll have a tax base we didn’t have before.”

The project has bounced around for nearly a decade without finding a home. The Amoco Reuse Board applied for a $5 million state grant through the Wyoming Business Council.

Casper Star-Tribune publisher Nathan Bekke, co-chair of the Business Council board, voted in favor of a $3 million grant and $2 million loan for the project. Board member Dick Bratton, co-owner of Refined Properties, abstained from the vote.

The Amoco Reuse Board ultimately received a $2.5 million loan to use on infrastructure on the 17 acres not directly related to the hotel and conference center project.

The board has not decided whether to accept that money yet, pending clarification on what specifically the loan can be used for.

According to the most recently available proposal, the JJM Hotel Group would secure $23 million in private investments and $5 million in naming rights — of which about half is spoken for, according to Refined Properties part-owner Richie Bratton — and the Amoco Reuse Board would loan $6 million.

An additional $2.1 million would come from state-allocated county consensus money.

“There was an oil refinery there in my lifetime, and now we’re talking about having a world-class golf course, a Crowne Plaza hotel … a conference center, a civic center, retail all around there that will continue the revitalization of this city,” Bratton said.

The final piece of the puzzle is the city’s 85-year, $5.1 million lease for the land, up from an estimated $2.7 million.

City Manager John Patterson said the increase followed a market analysis of the property.

The city will turn around and lease the 18-acre property to the developer.