By Tim Leeds/Havre Daily Newsfirstname.lastname@example.org
Some people who came to a meeting Tuesday to hear about the viability of building a special events center in Havre rose in defense of the idea after two men questioned whether it would work.
"I like the idea of bringing outside money into our community," said Mark Peterson, who farms north of Havre.
The results of a study about the feasibility of building a center to house events like athletic tournaments, conventions, conferences, trade shows and concerts were presented at the meeting, which was attended by about 50 people. A similar meeting was held Monday in Hingham.
Bill Krueger of Conventions, Sports & Leisure International of Minneapolis, the firm that did the study, said it shows Havre could support a small center.
Charles Grant and Mike Topolosky of Havre both questioned that after hearing the estimated cost.
CTA Architects and Engineers of Montana, who did the initial design of a center for Havre, estimates the cost at $14.5 million.
Grant asked what would happen if, after the taxpayers built a $14.5 million center, it couldn't support itself and the project "imploded."
Krueger said that hundreds of communities across the country have built similar centers using CS&L's study recommendations and have found the firm's projections to hold true.
"I can't sit here and give you a guarantee," he said. "We've studied this thoroughly and think it has potential in this community."
Topolosky asked how much it would cost the taxpayers to build the events center.
"That's a question that will come up," he said.
Both Grant and Topolosky questioned the wisdom of spending millions to build a center in an area where people are leaving, governments and schools are short of money and property taxes are going up.
After they spoke, Bud Baldwin of Havre said he hopes Havre doesn't make a mistake by passing up the opportunity. He said he supported the idea raised in the 1990s to build a private prison in Havre.
Local opposition killed that idea, and the prison was built in Shelby.
"All of Toole County is benefiting from that," Baldwin said.
Paul Tuss, executive director of Bear Paw Development Corp., said the next step will be deciding whether to continue efforts to build the center. The steering committee, consisting of representatives of city and county government, the Havre Public Schools, Montana State University-Northern and the Havre Area Chamber of Commerce, will look at the comments made in Havre and at a meeting in Hingham Monday and decide where to go from there.
"The first question we have to ask ourselves is do we proceed," he said. "Inevitably, you're going to be hearing a lot more from us on this project."
He said the public will be involved as the process goes forward, especially if it means asking the taxpayers to pay for the center.
"Clearly the taxpayers are going to have to know what to vote on if we go that route," he said.
The study said the center would be unlikely to pay for itself, estimating an operating deficit between $50,000 a year and $100,000 a year depending on where the building is located and what other services are available. It estimated that the center could attract between 130 and 170 days worth of events per year, again depending on location and what services are available.
The center could bring $13 million to $16 million a year to the community in spending and re-spending of new money brought by people coming to events, and could add more than 200 new jobs because of the spending, the report concludes.
Funding for the center could include local government investment, partnerships with private businesses and other sources like grants.
The proposed design includes a 15,000-square-foot floor with retractable seating and seating on a mezzanine for up to 6,000 people. The main section would have a removable hardwood floor for a basketball court, and a concrete floor for other events like conventions, concerts and trade shows. It would also include space for a stage.
It would have a 5,000-square foot meeting room, which could be divided into smaller meeting rooms.
Tuss said if the community wants to build the center, Bear Paw Development and other groups will research what money would be available to help build it, including private investment, grants and loans. Funding the project would probably have to include local money, he added.
David Henry of Havre said building a center might help solve some of the problems Grant and Topolosky raised.
"Maybe if we had a center we'd keep more people here," he said.
Kim Cripps of Havre said the center may give the town a chance to keep events it has to send away to other towns, including Class A tournaments that Havre participates in but can't host.
Other residents mentioned the national collegiate wrestling tournaments MSU-Northern has been forced to host in Great Falls, because Havre lacks a facility to do so. Building a center might allow Havre to host the tournament, they said.
Topolosky said in an interview that he doesn't oppose building an events center, but he wants people to know what they might be getting into. Paying increased taxes for an events center that failed would be bad, he said.
"I don't think it's wrong if the majority of people want it," he said. "I live with what the majority says. If it can be afforded I'm all for it."
The information and estimates in the study are in early stages. Krueger said much would depend on where Havre decided to locate the center, and the exact size and design it decided to use.
The study looked at six sites and ranked them on issues like accessibility and proximity to hotels, restaurants and stores. The top site was east of town where Quantum Five in the 1990s proposed building a golf resort, but only if Quantum Five actually builds the resort. Nothing has come of that.
"By the time that Quantum thing is done we'll probably all be in old age," Dave Greenwood of Havre said.
"That's what I've heard," Krueger replied.
If the golf resort is not built, the east Havre site drops to the lowest-ranked area in the study.
Other sites included west of Kmart, north of Havre Middle School and at the Hill County Fairgrounds. Krueger said success of those sites would be contingent on building hotel and restaurant accommodations. He recommended Havre put forth a request to the hotel industry to see if any companies would be interested in building a major hotel here.
"It's a unique opportunity for a hotel to team up with a state-of-the-art events center," he added.
The study showed that a center would significantly increase the number of events it could host, especially conventions and conferences, if a hotel was nearby.
The study examined two sites at MSU-Northern, one near the Student Union Building and one on the college practice field. Krueger said the university has some advantages, including possibly reducing some of the costs of the project, but has some drawbacks, including the possibility people in the community could view the center as a university project rather than a community project.
Other problems could include booking university events at the center that reduce the time available to book community events, and problems with access and parking, he said.
MSU-Northern Chancellor Alex Capdeville said the university is interested in building the center near the SUB, but doesn't want to manage the facility or have university events dominate its use.
"We think it would benefit Northern and the community," he said.
Henry said today he would like the committee to continue looking at the possibility of building the center.
"I'm intrigued by the information," he said. "I'm not sure that I buy it all, but it's at least worth going to the next level."