City, County Governments May Co-locate in Stillwater Building
Yellowstone County and the City of Billings are exploring in earnest the possibility of consolidating local government offices in the Stillwater Building.
On Monday, County Commissioners asked County Finance Director Kevan Bryan to research the feasibility of the county purchasing a portion of the Stillwater Building, and to present commissioners a report on January 22. His research should also include other options that might serve the county’s future growth and space needs
Kevin Iffland, Assistant City Administrator, who heads a committee to do much the same for the city, said they remain interested in a proposal they received about a year and a half ago from WC Commercial the company that owns the Stillwater Building. The Stillwater Building is a five-story building at 316 N. 26th in downtown Billings, formerly known as the James F. Battin Building. Several departments of county government currently occupy part of the third floor under a lease with the company that owns the building WC Commercial headed by Joe Holden.
A few weeks ago, Holden sent a letter to the city and the county saying he wanted to sell the property and asking for $24 million.
The county and city will initiate the process of getting appraisals on the building. Iffland said that he is sending WC Commercial a letter this week announcing their interest and asking permission to conduct appraisals, which would probably not be completed until near the end of February at the earliest.
Commissioner John Ostlund initiated a conversation about the need to develop a plan for their future needs with other commissioners and department heads during a discussion meeting. He underscored the wisdom of making plans now for the future of what they know will eventually be a need for more space. Both the county attorney’s office and courts are working in crowded spaces, said Ostlund, and both will need more space as “felony cases have went off the charts. “We know at some point we will be booted out of the court house.” Eventually, he said, he believes that the Courthouse will be a building dedicated to courts and the justice system.
Ostlund said that he thought that the county would be interested in no more than two floors and would probably want to “condo” them, but whether that is the case will be part of the feasibility study. He said that they will also be looking at the possibility of purchasing the Miller Building which is available for sale. It is where City/County Planning offices are housed and includes parking.
Iffland said that the city, too, is looking at other options but they aren’t “super looking”, just wanting to be aware of their options.
Ostlund said that the county plans to acquire whatever they need without having to ask for any tax increases. He said that the county had already set aside some capital funds for remodeling existing space or acquiring new that has not been used, and there are other capital reserves that can be pulled together which will most likely meet their financial needs.
The city would want the rest of the building that the county does not take, including basement and main floor and upper two floors. “We are in dire need of law and justice center space, and secondly, other city offices. Planning and community development and public works are in leased buildings and we would like to consolidate.
While there are sure to be benefits and cost savings for the city and county to do the purchase jointly, the real beneficiaries, said Iffland, will be the citizens in having all local government offices located in one area.