Havre Daily News
Plans for a proposed cultural center at the Hill County Fairgrounds are moving forward once more. The concept has evolved from a visitor center into a facility with a primary focus of celebrating the culture of Havre and the Hi-Line.
The idea was first discussed in late 2001, but the project's proponents hit a roadblock when the state denied a funding request, Craig Erickson said. Erickson is director of planning for Bear Paw Development Corp. Talk about the center was revived about nine months ago, he said.
Erickson on Monday presented preliminary drawings by Great Falls architect Marty Byrnes of CTA Architects and Engineers Inc. to a committee working on plans for a special events center in Havre. He said the aim of the cultural center is to provide a place to promote the region's attractions.
"The idea is to promote northern Montana's cultural and historical assets," Erickson said. "The problem with our cultural resources is that they have no marketing or very little. We believe the economic impact of this will be significant. Everyone involved wants to make this a regional facility, one that will tell the story of this region from both the Native American and non-Native perspectives."
A 3.2-acre site at the northwest corner of the fairgrounds has been selected. If constructed, the facility could provide office space to the Great Northern Fair Board, the fair manager and the Havre Area Chamber of Commerce, Erickson said, adding that the organizations residing there would share in the operating and maintenance costs of the facility.
The site will provide a high-profile location for the cultural center, Erickson added.
Fair board chair Steve Faber said the structure would be a good addition to the fairgrounds.
"I think it's going to be a very attractive building, and the location will be very visible to the traffic coming up over the hill," he said. "It's going to be a really nice attraction for tourists as well as the public of Havre and the Hi-Line."
The fair board currently meets at the Hill County Courthouse and fair manager Tim Solomon has an office at the fairgrounds.
There has also been talk of adding a theater to the center in order to host Montana Actors' Theatre productions. Erickson said the addition makes sense, adding that there is data that supports the impact of the arts on a community's economy.
MAT members said they were excited by the possibility.
"We just think it's an incredible opportunity, not only for us, but for all of the cultural interests in this community," MAT president Jay Pyette said. The main goal, he added, is to bring people to Havre - not just once, but again and again.
Havre's location between two prime summer theater draws, the Fort Peck Summer Theatre and the Bigfork Summer Playhouse, may make it easier to draw audiences here throughout the season, MAT vice president Grant Olson said.
Erickson said the center would act as a "beacon" by drawing travelers off of U.S. Highway 2 and showing them what the area has to offer. The project would enhance the fairgrounds and the special events center, he said.
Chamber executive director Debbie Vandeberg said the proposed office space would make the organization easier to find.
"The location of the chamber is critical for visibility and access for the tourists that come into our community," she said. "We're not very easy to find, so we feel that visual presence would help."
The chamber is located on First Street but in an out-of-the-way location, Vandeberg said.
"We're kind of tucked back a little, and it's awkward to find us when you're coming from the east," she added.
Those attending the events center meeting said the cultural center would be a positive addition to a master plan to revamp the fairgrounds. The committee members agreed with Erickson's suggestion to keep the two projects separate.
The cultural center will cost about $1.4 million, Erickson said, and the addition of a theater would add about $1 million more to the project.
The state Department of Transportation in 2002 denied a request for Community Transportation Enhancement Program funding to pay for the building's construction because the proposed facility included chamber office space, Erickson said. He said he plans on applying for CTEP funds again, though this time the money would be used for site preparation and landscaping. Other possible avenues for funding are being explored, including the Montana Cultural and Aesthetic Trust Fund. Private foundation funding will be sought, he said.
The project is still in the early stages and there is more work to be done, Erickson said. He added that he will continue to meet with the public, the fair board and the events center committee in order to make the facility a reality.