Havre Daily News
An ad hoc committee today is interviewing two architectural firms that are vying to create a master plan to revamp the Hill County Fairgrounds.
On Thursday, the Hill County Commission will choose between Great Falls-based CTA Architects Engineers and Billings-based SGA to plan the improvements, which will include a special events center, a visitor/cultural center, paved parking and landscaping, along with improvements to the rodeo arena and 4-H buildings. The project has stirred significant local interest and gained the attention of state officials.
The firm that is selected will work with committee members, local government officials and the Great Northern Fair Board to create the design, which will provide the broad strokes of what the fairgrounds may look like, along with cost estimates for the improvements. The firm will also work to assist in educating the public about the proposed improvements.
The master plan should be completed by February or March, committee members said. They plan to pay for a portion of the project by asking voters to approve a bond issue in November 2006.
Chuck Wimmer, who chairs the committee's finance subcommittee, said at a meeting Monday that he wants to begin speaking with professional fundraisers, who could help generate a significant portion of the project's costs by soliciting donations from charitable foundations, corporations and individuals.
The cost estimates will help committee members decide whether to attempt to fund all of the proposed improvements at once or go through the project in phases.
The master plan will be paid for with a $15,000 Community Development Block Grant and matching funds from local donors.
Wimmer said the group has received $20,510 so far from local businesses and citizens.
He also said attaining federal nonprofit status would help the group raise more money by giving potential donors another incentive to support the project.
Committee members said a display of conceptual plans for the fairground improvements made a big impression on people at the Great Northern Fair.
"People are soaking this stuff up," Tuss said. He was "swamped" with people asking questions during the few hours he spent staffing the booth, he added.
The display included drawings of what the buildings could look like along with a list of possible events that could be held in the events center. Those include athletic competitions, trade shows, conferences and other activities.
Marketing subcommittee chair Greg Dugdale said the majority of written comments the group received were positive, and most of the negative commentary came from people who were opposed to paying for any of the improvements with taxpayer dollars.
One high school athlete wrote that "being able to hold a state championship in our town would be amazing," Dugdale said.
Committee members plan to give a presentation to visiting Havre High and Havre Central alumni during the Fossil Festival, set to begin Friday, and will continue to educate the public at upcoming events like Festival Days.
Havre Public Schools Superintendent Kirk Miller said at the meeting that the public is getting excited about the proposed improvements because of what it could mean for Havre and Hill County.
"What we're doing is looking at a vision of Havre helping itself out of the economic doldrums it is in," Miller said. "I think we're exactly where we need to be right now."
The project also is receiving attention in Helena.
Havre Area Chamber of Commerce executive director Debbie Vandeberg said Lt. Gov. John Bohlinger sought her out at an event in Billings recently to tell her how pleased he is with the work the committee is doing.
"He was just ecstatic about the energy here in Havre," Vandeberg said. "He said, 'If there's anything I can do, call me.' He was very impressed."
Bear Paw Development Corp. planning director Craig Erickson, who has long been involved in the effort to make the visitor/cultural center a reality, said he also has received much positive feedback.
"I have yet to talk to anybody over the last year who does not grasp the need for this," Erickson said. "I've yet to talk to anyone who is opposed to it at all."
The visitor/cultural center would attract travelers along U.S. Highway 2 and serve as an information center to showcase what Havre, Hill County and surrounding areas have to offer. It also would highlight the cultural and historical assets of the region and provide a permanent home for the Montana Actors' Theatre, which hopes to bring theater crowds to Havre again and again.
The proposed facility also may provide the chamber, the fair board and fair manager with office space.
Committee members again discussed the pros and cons of keeping the event center and visitor/cultural center as separate projects. Many of the people in attendance advocated combining the two projects, but members decided to keep that decision on hold for at least another month.
The Hill County Commission will pick the architectural firm at 10 a.m. Thursday.
Anyone who is interested in becoming involved with the efforts at the fairgrounds can contact the chamber at 265-4383.
The committee meets again Sept. 26 at 10 a.m. in the U.S. Bank meeting room.