- 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.