Havre Daily News
The Hill County Fairgrounds has been chosen as the tentative site for the construction of a proposed special events center. The center would play host to a variety of athletic events, trade shows and conferences and is seen as part of a master plan to give the entire fairground facility a facelift.
Business and community leaders voted unanimously Monday to pick the fairgrounds over a proposed site on the Montana State University-Northern campus. The two sites were selected from a longer list in February, but members of the project committee were concerned that the campus site did not have enough parking and access and would overcrowd the surrounding neighborhoods during events.
The group's selection of the fairgrounds still awaits the formal blessing of Hill County Commission and the Great Northern Fair Board. Commissioners and fair board members had positive reactions to the committee's recommendation.
Fair board chairman Steve Faber said the facility would be an improvement for the fairgrounds and for the community.
"We're in dire need of a decent facility up there," Faber said today. "I think it would be an excellent addition."
Dave Clausen, chair of the site selection subcommittee, said the fairgrounds had a lot going for it. Land is available for the facility and will still be there two to five years down the road when construction could begin, he said. In addition, ample utilities are in place and there is adequate space for parking. Land nearby offers ample room for construction of additional restaurants and hotels. Most of all, the site is visible and would make a great attraction for travelers along the Hi-Line.
"Putting it all together would make for a really nice facility for Havre and Hill County," Clausen said.
Havre Area Chamber of Commerce executive director Debbie Vandeburg said a subcommittee has studied a variety of events that could be held at the center. The facility could be used to host concerts, powwows, art shows, conferences, trade shows, agricultural shows, home and garden shows, and a number of college and high school athletic events.
Committee co-chair Craig Tilleman said he has heard from some members of the community concerned with building a facility that would only be used for high school athletics. He said that is not the intention of the project.
"That's not the point," he said. "We want to bring in people from across the Hi-Line. We want this to be a destination."
Hill County Commissioner Kathy Bessette said she thinks the events center will be a good addition to the fairgrounds.
"I think a lot of investigation has gone into it," she said. "It will be a very visible site and I think it's a good fit."
Commissioner Doug Kaercher said the commissioners are "on board" and agreed that the facility would be an excellent component in the plan to revamp the fairgrounds. He and Commissioner Mike Anderson said now is the time to begin looking for grant funding to use to enlist an architect to create a master plan.
Bear Paw Development executive director Paul Tuss described the master plan as a "comprehensive vision of the fairgrounds" that would include input from the community. The plan would include the events center, a proposed cultural center, a new corral system and other amenities.
Faber said he supports the concept. The corral and many of the buildings at the fairgrounds need to be replaced, he said.
The plan would "benefit the whole community," Faber added. "It will make it a great attraction for the Hi-Line and Hill County." The current facilities are a "maintenance nightmare" he said.
Fair board member Alma Seidel said she supports the idea of creating a new vision for the fairgrounds but knows that it will take a lot of work and cooperation between the fair board, the county commissioners and the community.
Seidel said she supports locating the events center at the fairgrounds but still has a few concerns. One is saline seep, a process by which rising groundwater brings salt to the surface and evaporates, leaving a deposit.
Faber echoed comments made by CTA architect Marty Byrnes at the last committee meeting, saying that saline seep will not be a problem. CTA of Great Falls has presented preliminary plans for the project.
Seidel also said she was concerned about the planned demolition of the 4-H buildings and other facilities to make room for the events center.
Faber said it would be worth the sacrifice to get a better facility, which would take the place of the buildings to be destroyed.
"We may lose a building or two for a summer, but you're going to have to pay the price for a facility like that," he said.
Committee members have begun to search for ways to pay for the events center. A number of different options are being considered: federal and state funding, private foundations, corporate partnerships, tribal funding and a bond issue.
"This is going to be a daunting task," funding subcommittee chair Chuck Wimmer said. "We're going to look at all of the available options."
Wimmer said the group is in talks with private foundations and the National Tribal Development Association. He also suggested searching for a hotel chain that could be a partner in the project and build an adjoining facility.
Tuss said he had sent a $1.5 million appropriations request to all three of Montana's congressional delegates. He said he received commitments from them for help but was unsure if the effort would actually turn into any money. He encouraged the committee members and interested residents to contact the delegates through their offices in Great Falls to voice support for the project.
"In our mission to turn over every rock, we thought this would be appropriate," Tuss said.