The City of Billings has purchased a 10 acre parcel of land near Amend Park  for the purpose of accommodating sports and recreation facilities. The endeavor is being spearheaded by The South Billings Urban Renewal District (SBURD) which will engage A & E Architects and Sanderson Stewart who will evaluate the property for a prospective three-pronged sport facility. A & E and Sanderson Stewart were chosen as the best of five proposals submitted in response to a request for proposals.

At the same time, the architectural and engineering firms will evaluate the potential for property that was the former Montana Holiday Inn Convention facility, which the owners, Inner Circle, have offered to donate for such a purpose. Inner Circle, a Florida-based company, now owns the Red Lion (the former Holiday Inn & Convention Center).

The 10.1-acre parcel was purchased from the Propelka Enterprises for $934,500 which at $2.11 per square foot is viewed as a “pretty good deal,” by Steve Zeier, SBURD administrator. Revenues from the tax increment of the SBURD were used to make the purchase, and SBURD has also budgeted $150,000 to pay for the feasibility study, for which the City of Billings is expected to enter into a contract on October 22.

Members of the SBURD advisory board believe that having such facilities in that area of the city will enhance the area’s economic viability, as well as add to the amenities for the whole community. Sports organizations and the public in general will be asked for input in developing the feasibility study.

The SBURD has $7.5 million, to which an increment of $3.2 million is annually being generated from the tax increment district which is the SBURD. The funds are adequate to substantially help fund construction of ice, aquatic and gym facilities, all of which were identified as needs to the community in a study conducted by Victus Advisors early last spring.

Victus was asked to do an inventory and identify potential improvements, estimate economic impacts, and to make recommendations regarding sports venues by the Montana Department of Commerce, Visit Billings, Laurel Aquatic Recreation Complex, Laurel Urban Renewal Agency, South Billings Urban Renewal Association, Billings Aquatics Club, and Montana Swimming.

The basic conclusions of the survey were that:

An indoor sports center would produce the largest economic/fiscal impacts of the three facility development options. It would also be the most cost-effective to build at about $10 million. An indoor sports facility providing courts for such things as basketball and volley ball, holds the potential to be operated by a private third-party with no public operating contributions.

Zeier is optimistic about the potential for the project in the SBURD. He said the community is supportive. The SBURD board needs some revamping and new leadership must be identified following the untimely death of it former president, John Hanser, but Zeier said there are individuals willing to take on the challenge and he is confident that they will be able to advance the project.

Previously, Zeier speculated that after applying the SBURD’s funding, there would still be a need to issue bonds for perhaps $25 million, which would be repaid over a 20 year period as future TIF revenues accrue. 

The SBURD has also allotted $1.7 million to $2 million to provide lights and artificial turf for Amend Park, which Victus suggested were low-hanging fruit in terms of things that could be done for minimal cost that would result in immediate benefits to the city’s capacity to host sports.