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Big Sky Economic Development (BSED) stands ready to donate $50,000 from its Opportunity Fund as a share of $675,000 being requested by the Hammes Group to help fund a comprehensive Development Plan for One Big Sky Center.

Other groups being asked to fund the balance would be members of an alliance to be known as “Strategy Partners,” which is to be formed through a cooperative agreement by February 15, 2018. Besides BSED, Strategy Partners would include the City of Billings, Downtown Billings Partnership, the Billings Chamber of Commerce, the Billings Tourism and Business Improvement District (BTBID) and “invested local private sector companies,” as well as the Hammes Group.

The Hammes Group would provide $1.1 million to $1.3 million as its share of the Development Plan, which is proposed for completion on or before March 1, 2019.

The concept of One Big Sky Center has changed from the original proposal of a multi-purpose skyscraper in downtown Billings, to more of a downtown district with two large anchor points. It has evolved into more of an economic growth proposal for a broader area of downtown, explained BSED Director Steve Arveschoug, during the joint board meeting of EDA and EDC at the beginning of the month.

In that transformation the proposed project, which has changed principals, seems to have picked up more support, reported some members of the BSED boards.

The new direction actually involves “two distinct subdistricts” states the public – private partnership agreement. The strategy is to “leverage health care and tourism as catalysts to position the Billings Region as a competitive community with a positive business climate…”

One district will be the Health & Wellness District, envisioned as “a medical campus of the future.” It would be “a wellness-focused mixed-use village” where regional health care providers will connect with the downtown.  It is expected to bring state-of-the-art health care facilities to Billings.

A second district is a Lifestyle District, which would provide a “dynamic civic destination with a newly constructed entertainment and convention center.” It would entail a master plan design that would integrate public and private uses “to strengthen Billings as a community.”

A Development Plan would address historic challenges that have made “urban redevelopment, workforce recruitment and driving visitation difficult, including uncoordinated development, underutilized or underdeveloped civic amenities, an inefficient transportation network, and lack of strategy” in development and growth.

Strategy Partners will work with Hammes Group in completing market research and preparing a capital improvement plan and budget for infrastructure costs and investment phased over five years to support the development. Work that is aimed to be completed by August 1, 2018.

The agreement stipulates that the groups will negotiate exclusively with Hammes Group for the development, construction and operation of the civic convention and events center and for the planning and development of an adjacent hotel for the entire term of the planning period.

They will work with Hammes Group “to contract for and fund a current convention center market and feasibility study for the City” by August 1, 2018.

Also, by August 1, the partners are to assist Hammes Group in preparing a fiscal and economic impact analysis of the project.

The agreement also calls for assistance in gaining support and incentives from the Governor’s Office of Economic Development, the Montana Department of Commerce and other state programs.

In presenting the proposal to the board, Allison Corbyn, BSED program manager, said that Strategy Partners has yet to determine which organization will take the lead in advancing the project. BSED, however, sees itself as being able to assist with the market research and helping to acquire sites. They can also assist in getting a third party analysis regarding feasibility and as a facilitator in obtaining state grants.

With one board member asking about the potential conflict of a public entity competing with a private convention center, which was recently announced as a possibility by owners of the Radisson Hotel on Midland Road, Arveschoug said that both projects are seeking some element of tax funded incentives.

Further, said Arveschoug, “We want to refresh a feasibility study and we will allow that expertise to guide us.”

HVS Convention, Sports & Entertainment Facilities Consulting conducted a feasibility study for the Billings Chamber of Commerce for a proposed convention/conference center in downtown Billings in 2015. The study concluded that a preferred location for such a center would be downtown. It also, determined that the convention center would not be sustainable without annual operating subsidies.

Terms of BSED’s $50,000 contribution include that the work product must be delivered before the dollars will be provided. Also, before signing an agreement committing the funds, they will seek clarity on what tasks are in the scope of work for which the funds will be used.