By Tim Leeds/Havre Daily Newsfirstname.lastname@example.org
Consultants were here this week to begin a study on whether Havre should build a special events center.
Many people who met with Bill Krueger of Conventions, Sports and Leisure International of Minneapolis, the lead firm conducting the study, spoke of two main needs: hosting athletic events and hosting events like conventions and trade shows.
Other groups told Krueger they have other needs as well, and can see the building filled with a variety of events.
"I think the building would be used all the time," Denise Brewer, director of student activities at Montana State University-Northern, said during a meeting with the consultants Thursday.
Krueger and Ken Richardson of Montana's CTA Architects and Engineers began holding meetings Wednesday as the first step in the study. The meetings were scheduled to continue through this morning.
The Havre Area Chamber of Commerce two years ago began investigating whether Havre should build a center along the lines of MetraPark in Billings or the Four Seasons Arena in Great Falls to hold sporting events, concerts, trade shows, conventions, plays, conferences, annual meetings and other events.
Krueger said the results of the study could range from endorsing a major events center in the community to recommending a small center that complements existing buildings, or building nothing at all.
He said CSL and CTA will research the Havre area to determine its needs and resources, including hotels, restaurants and retail stores, and research the demand for and availability of events a center could hold.
The report will also give estimates of costs and possible ways to fund construction.
Chuck Wimmer, president of the Havre Area Chamber of Commerce, said he thinks sports would be one major focus of a center.
"Sports are big in this part of the world," he told the consultants.
Area residents repeatedly told Krueger and Richardson that Havre often misses out on events it could be hosting. Montana State University-Northern is once again hosting NAIA wrestling nationals in Great Falls, Havre High School has hosted the Class A Central Division basketball tournament in Great Falls, and the city is regularly passed over for other tournaments and state, regional and national conventions and meetings, they said.
Other possible events discussed included meetings and conferences of state associations and organizations, meetings, conferences and events held by local groups, as well as trade shows, equestrian and livestock shows, and concerts.
Representatives of the Hi-Line Concert Association, Northern Showcase, the Havre Art Association and Montana Actors' Theatre said having another venue for performing arts would be helpful.
Jay Pyette, drama teacher at Havre High School and president of MAT, said the high school auditorium, which seats about 750, is the only place to hold major performing arts shows. It is very overbooked, he added.
If he could have anything he wanted, Pyette said, he would like to see the center hold both a larger theater, possibly seating 1,200 to 1,400 people, and a smaller theater for more intimate theater performances and other events.
Krueger said that if a center is designed to allow many different kinds of events, that can limit its uses for some events. For example, a large floor space would work for tractor shows or boat shows. It could be partitioned for meetings and also host sporting events and large concerts. But that wouldn't work well for theater or smaller shows like orchestral performances.
A center Krueger referred to repeatedly is the Five Flags Center in Dubuque, Iowa, built in 1975. The center has a 35,000- square-foot floor suitable for trade shows, which can be partitioned off to hold conventions and conferences, including creating a dining room for banquets and small rooms for meetings and discussion groups. It has an ice sheet laid for five months for skating and hockey, and has basketball courts installed for tournaments. It also can be used for concerts and other events.
The Five Flags Center has permanent seating on a balcony and retractable seating on all four sides of the main floor that can be used as needed.
A small performing arts center was built next to the main center.
Increasing the different events the center could be used for, like providing space for the performing arts, increases the number of people who would support it, but it also could increase the price significantly, he said.
Krueger declined to say what he thought a center suitable for Havre would cost, or what would be the best way to fund such a center. It is too early in the study to talk about those issues, he said.
Some of the previous CSL projects he mentioned ranged from a $4 million renovation of an existing building to a new $20 million building.
Another issue discussed was possible locations for a special events center. Some of the places mentioned were on the university campus, near the high school and at the Hill County Fairgrounds. Mayor Bob Rice suggested building it on the east end of town where companies have proposed building a golf course and resort.
Pyette suggested that the best location for a center would be downtown on First Street, where it could attract people driving through town. He said, however, he has no idea where it could be located downtown.
Krueger said all of the proposed locations have benefits and drawbacks.
One possible problem in locating the center at the high school or university is that it might lose some of its focus as a general community resource, with the schools dominating its use, residents told Krueger.
Krueger said he expects the study to be complete in three to four months, when he will present a written report and hold a public meeting to discuss the report.