- What is One Big Sky District?
One Big Sky District is a comprehensive development plan, which includes two sub-districts with catalytic “anchor” projects in each district. It is a visionary plan for growth with the following goals:
• Goal #1: Create new jobs and an engaged and inspired workforce
• Goal #2: Provide meaningful economic and fiscal impacts to the City, County, and State
• Goal #3: Increase visitation for the City, Region, and State
• Goal #4: Create a “Lifestyle” city, centered on health/wellness/recreation
- Who is leading the project?
The strategy partners leading this project are the Billings Chamber of Commerce, Big Sky Economic Development, Billings Tourism Business Improvement District, Downtown Billings Partnership, and the City of Billings. This group has engaged the services of the Hammes Company.
- Who is Hammes Co. and Landmark, LLC.?
Hammes Company is a commercial developer based in Madison, WI. Their portfolio includes the One City Center in Allentown, PA, the renovation of Lambeau Field (Home of the Green Bay Packers), the U.S. Bank Stadium for the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority and the Minnesota Vikings, and they are currently working on developing the Destination Medical Center at Mayo Clinic campus in Rochester, MN as well as a new healthcare campus in Duluth, Minnesota. Landmark, LLC. is the holding company that Hammes is using to do business in Montana.
- What is the alternative to One Big Sky District?
The alternative do-nothing scenario is an option. But if we decide that inaction is our best choice, our competition around Montana and the mountain west region will continue to grow the communities the next generation of workforce wants to live in. And without a talented workforce our business community will no longer prosper.
Billings’ proposed catalytic project within the heart of this district is a convention center. In a recently commissioned study by HVS Convention, Sports & Entertainment Facilities Consulting, they note immediate economic impact of $13.2 million in direct spending as well as 136 new jobs will result from convention center development. According to HVS, under a “do nothing” scenario, Billings’ ability to attract major convention and meeting events will diminish. That will impact our economy and local businesses.
- Why is a convention center being discussed as a catalytic project?
At this point, a convention center is being discussed. The catalytic project will be identified during the plan development period. We are discussing it because we know Billings is well-suited for this type of catalytic, regional development; several previous studies have proven that point. However, with One Big Sky on the horizon, the Billings Chamber hired HVS Convention Sports & Entertainment to update work previously done for Billings in 2015.
Through this update we learned that things are happening exactly as HVS predicted they would without the addition of new, larger convention space. The 2015 Study said Billings would lose 25% of our meeting and convention business. Today’s study shows we’ve lost 24% of that business, and we’re on track to lose an additional 33% more business in the next five years. We’re losing market share and our competitors are booking business Billings used to compete for.
Meantime, our competitors are forging ahead. The newly released Study lists comparable venues. On that list:
• Bozeman is currently evaluating the development of a conference center with 15,000 to 20,000 square feet of function space and an adjoining hotel.
• Missoula recently announced plans for a mixed-use development, including a 10-story hotel building and 60,000 gross square foot conference center. Developers hope to break ground by late 2019.
Also on the list is actual convention space in Bismarck, Rapid City, Boise, Sioux Falls, Casper, Laramie, Cheyenne, Jackson and several Washington state communities. Some of these offer similar sized convention centers to what Billings offers now. Some are much larger. But most are either new, renovated, larger, or simply better and more attractive to meeting planners. And several are planning or already working toward significant growth.
- How long will the One Big Sky District study process take?
The One Big Sky District study process will be completed by late December 2018 - early January 2019. If all goes according to plan, we anticipate breaking ground in 2019. With the development plan agreement in place, we should know by early 2019 what the district will need in terms of catalytic anchor projects, the programming, and how best to finance construction. The plan itself is expected to project development potential for the next 25+ years.
- How can I stay informed?
Continue to engage with the project supporters listed under “Who supports this project?." Follow development on this website and our corresponding Facebook page
. And, be sure not to miss our quarterly public information forums that will allow the public to ask about the project. Information on these forums will be shared through this site, local news outlets, and the Facebook page, as well as through the partner organizations listed below.
Additionally, join us for one of the weekly Coffee Conversations hosted each Friday morning at 7:30 a.m. at a different coffee shop in Billings. Find details for each week at our Facebook events feed
- Who supports the project?
1) The City of Billings. Our City Council voted and approved to move forward with a memorandum of understanding and $100,000 toward Phases II and III of the development.
2) Business and community organizations in Billings:
• Billings Chamber of Commerce
• Big Sky Economic Development
• Downtown Billings Partnership
• Billings Tourism Business Improvement District
3) Private businesses. Almost $100,000 has been contributed toward One Big Sky District from Billings businesses and individuals:
• Billings Clinic
• CTA Architects Engineers
• First Interstate Bank
• Kinetic Marketing
• Kris Carpenter
• Lee Humphrey
• MSU Billings
• NorthWestern Energy
• PayneWest Insurance
• Rimrock Foundation
• Rocky Mountain College
• Julie Seedhouse
• Vincent Healthcare
• Stockman Bank
• Valley Credit Union
• Zoot Enterprises / Northern Hotel
4) Commercial Real Estate Developers. United Properties Inc. (owners and property managers of TransWestern Plaza and half of First Interstate Center) financially supports the project.
- What is the public compared to private contribution?
The Billings City Council approved appropriation of $100,000 from general fund reserves, and an estimated $60,000 of staff time to work with the council, community, and developers. The cash contribution is just 5.4% of the total cost of the study.
- How are funds dispersed?
The contributions from the Strategy Partners, including the City of Billings, Big Sky Economic, Billings Chamber, Downtown Billings Partnership, Tourism Business Improvement District, and private donors will be managed by Big Sky Economic Development, which is the Strategic Partner contracted with Hammes. Big Sky Economic will manage the $675,000 to fund things like the fiscal and economic impact, valuation analysis, geotechnical site analysis, and conceptual design, among numerous other necessary costs.
- How about the tax increment financing (TIF) money?
A portion of the $675,000 committed to the project came from the downtown TIF district. The Downtown Billings Partnership (DBP) received a $400,000 loan from Big Sky Economic using the DBP’s Yesteryears Building as collateral. Spending of that money will comply with eligible uses of TIF dollars for projects around the downtown TIF area.
- What do we, citizens of Billings, Yellowstone County and the state of Montana, get as a result of this project?
Our $675,000 community investment, along with the Hammes Company’s $1+ million investment pays for a comprehensive development plan the City of Billings will own at the end of these phases. We would hope the city moves forward with the recommended projects identified in the development plan, but regardless, the city will own the plan and can pursue recommended projects with whomever they choose in the coming decades.
Ultimately, the investment generated from One Big Sky District will largely come from private developers. As far as return on investment goes, the public investment will only account for 12% of the cost of full build out, while attracting $1.5 BILLION of private investment
in Billings over 15 years. (estimated as of May 2018)
- What is a public-private partnership (P3)?
A PPP or P3 is a long-term contract between a private and public entity, which provides a public good or service. A great example of a P3 in Billings is the Empire Parking Garage. The garage was built by the city, utilizing TIF monies, and is managed by the Northern Hotel. While the day-to-day operations are taken care of by the Northern, the city still owns the property. A P3 is a proven strategy to partner private organizations with the public sector to provide goods and services to the public at reduced cost to the taxpayer.
- Will our money just go to out-of-state developers?
No. The project’s master planners will be looking locally first to fill contracts. It’s probably unlikely that everything can be contracted locally, but the emphasis will be to spend our local dollars with local business.
- What about a public subsidy for ongoing operations and maintenance of a convention center?
Some event centers around the US require a subsidy to account for the operations and maintenance costs or running the facility. To address this concern, Hammes Company has stressed the importance of strategically programming the venue. Rather than constructing a building for the sole purpose of conventions, we need to value engineer some cost sharing by adding in other services like restaurants, retail, office, or downtown living space. By doing this, we can either decrease or eliminate the need for public subsidy. In fact, Hammes’s Allentown project, the PPL Center, is operated by a private organization to make a profit on the venue.
- What is the current footprint of One Big Sky District?
The photo below indicates the current area being considered for One Big Sky District, comprised of both the Lifestyle and Health and Wellness districts. As research continues, this footprint is subject to change.
- What is the One Big Sky Development Plan that was previewed at the City Council meeting Monday December 17th?
The Development Plan embodies the deliberate economic development strategy to overcome the challenges and capitalize on the opportunities of the city of Billings, the Region and the State for the next generation of workers, residents, students, and visitors.
The Development Plan lays out a comprehensive vision and plan of action to evolve the City of Billings into a more vibrant destination centered on the Montana lifestyle that drives robust growth in the local and statewide economies. This unique plan is fueled by private investment and builds iconic new public assets and civic institutions that will secure the State’s position as a national leader in creative economic development, workforce development and infrastructure delivery and financing strategies.
- Why is this type of strategy and corresponding Development Plan necessary?
Over the last decade, Billings’ economy has been defined by slow and steady growth. However, “slow and steady” has NOT created enough momentum to attract and retain workers, drive visitation, and grow new and existing businesses. The absence of growth and an urban strategy for Billings has resulted in a market “gap” that limits Billings’ ability to attract private capital investment needed to support growth and new development on par with competing cities in the Mountain States region and nationally. The One Big Sky plan means coordinated development to address the current market challenges and break the stagnant market cycle (i.e., it will close the “gap”).
- Why is the One Big Sky initiative so important? What is the alternative to the Development Plan?
The alternative “do-nothing” scenario is an option. But if the City or State decides that inaction is the best choice, then the massive future burden of meeting State and local needs will continue to fall on property taxpayers, who will simply pay more. Projections show that the City and State economies will see limited growth in economic output and tax base. Montana ranks among the lowest of any state in the country when it comes to Millennial population – the workforce of the future. Today, Montana lacks sufficient tools to drive economic development and grow the statewide economy. As Montana’s largest city and home to some of its largest employers and with a number of civic “anchors,” Billings is positioned to become a great modern American city – one that can generate new spending, create new jobs, and attract the future workforce that will strengthen the tax base. This urban strategy will also support more rural parts of the region and the State – to the tune of over $2 billion in new revenues that can be used to support a variety of local and statewide priorities. Independent third-party consultants have confirmed: “Without a strong core, the whole region suffers as economic opportunities pass it by for more vibrant urban centers of activity.”
- What are the main components of this economic development strategy?
The vision is to attract private businesses and development interests to four anchoring districts that will become catalysts to the revitalization of Billings. The private development and civic infrastructure / assets will be grounded in (1) entertainment and events (including a first-of-its-kind convention center concept), (2) civic and health / wellness components, (3) an urban lifestyle residential district, and (4) educational and innovation uses and users.
- Why is a convention center important as a catalytic project?
Billings can build America’s most unique convention, event and multi-purpose venue. According to industry experts in convention and events venues, “The ‘box with docks’ model will not support the venue model of tomorrow. The model will be flipped. It may increasingly start to look like a part of the city instead of standing apart from its host city.” This Montana Station venue will be a destination that is activated 365 days / year for both residents and visitors. It is equal parts a tourism draw and an asset for civic and community events. It will possess the amenities and character that will become the foundation of an authentic “Montana experience” – from the food served, to the artwork and culture on display, to the very design and materials of the facilities themselves.
Montana doesn’t currently have a venue that can compete at the scale / level of experience that is envisioned for Montana Station. It will be larger than any venue in the State and attract conventions and events that are currently going to other cities in the Mountain States region, allowing Montana to “punch above its weight class” and bring new dollars into the State and local economies.
- How is all of this new development financed?
Privately. The One Big Sky strategy leverages private investment for both the extraordinary civic infrastructure costs and the expected private development costs (i.e., new private commercial office space, downtown residential, hotels, and retail, dining and entertainment establishments that will complement existing businesses in the City). The plan requires the private sector to invest substantial capital (a minimum of $300 million) to drive development of transformative anchors in the downtown core, which means the private sector will build, finance and operate the necessary civic infrastructure and the private development. Once this happens, there is a certain growth in jobs and net new taxes at all levels of government. Then, and only then, does the public sector contribute to reimburse a portion – but not all – of the civic infrastructure. The private sector will still shoulder a portion of that burden of paying for civic infrastructure. This means the financial risk lies with the private sector, not the City or the State.
- Does this create a debt of the State or new taxes?
No, the One Big Sky legislative proposal does not create a debt of the State, now or in the future. It is not part of the State infrastructure bonding bill. It does not impose any new taxes at the State or local levels. The proposal does not put public funds at risk … private funds must lead for public investment to follow via a State appropriation, only after the private sector has put a minimum level of capital in and there is a corresponding local “match,” which result in massive net new tax revenues at the City, County and State levels.