Havre Daily News
They have a plan, but its price tag left many seated at a conference table Monday scratching their heads and asking: “What next?”
Improvements at the Hill County Fairgrounds, including a special events center, a visitor/cultural center, a new grandstand and a new chuckwagon, are estimated to cost in excess of $26.6 million in 2007 dollars. By 2012, the improvements will cost more than $31.6 million.
Despite the daunting task, the attitude of special events center committee members at Monday's meeting at Bear Paw Development Corp. was far from negative.
“I think we've got one heck of a plan here,” Modern Aire owner Dennis Morgan said. “It seems like all the parties are satisfied with this.
“I think we've got to be optimistic,” he added.
Committee co-chair Brent Reber agreed. A 2004 study by Minneapolis, Minn.-based Conventions, Sports & Leisure International concluded that the special events center could bring $10 million in economic activity to Havre each year, an amount that would quickly outpace the center's cost. “It's all in how you look at it,” Reber said.
The improvements include an 6,000-seat event center with a removable hardwood floor, scoreboard and four locker rooms. The 18,000-square-foot exhibit space would feature retractable seating on the main floor to provide additional room for large trade shows or other events. The center would also feature two 2,500-square-foot rooms for convention and conference space. The center is estimated to cost $14.3 million.
The visitor/cultural center, which could be the future home for the Havre Area Chamber of Commerce, the Great Northern Fair Board and Montana Actors' Theatre, is planned as a high-profile structure designed with grain elevator and railroad depot influences. It would be located at the northeast corner of the fairgrounds with the intent of drawing travelers off U.S. Highway 2. It's estimated to cost $2.8 million.
The new grandstand would face eastward and seat 2,460 spectators. It would feature a quarter-mile track, covered roof, concessions and restrooms, and is estimated to cost about $3.3 million. The new chuckwagon would seat between 40 and 50 patrons and is expected to cost about $507,000.
Other improvements to the fairgrounds, including parking and other amenities, round out the total project cost. The plan was put together by Great Falls architect Marty Byrnes of CTA Architects & Engineers.
While optimistic, the committee's members know a lot must happen before construction begins on the center and other improvements.
The main option committee members are studying is private fundraising. They hope to land corporate or charitable donations to fund a major portion of the improvements.
“We're really going to have to make an aggressive attack for private funding,” committee co-chair Craig Tilleman said.
Stockman Bank president Chuck Wimmer, who chairs the group's finance subcommittee, said the group may need to partner with a national fundraising entity to secure corporate and charitable dollars.
“This is a great plan, but nobody in this room has the time ... or the contacts” needed to raise this amount of money, he said.
Tilleman said the group is undecided on whether it will ask the Hill County Commission to place a bond issue on the November ballot. Commissioners have said they would place a $6 million bond issue on the ballot if asked.
Tilleman was optimistic that U.S. Sen. Conrad Burns, R-Mont., would work to secure a $5 million funding request made by the committee. Burns met with community leaders in Havre on Sunday, and said the project would be an attractive asset to the community and would convince companies considering a move here that Havre and Hill County offer a high quality of life for their employees.
“I thought he was amazingly positive on this project,” Tilleman said of Burns.
The committee was charged with bringing a special events center to Havre, but the need for other improvements at the fairgrounds led it to partner with the Hill County Commission in securing funding for the master plan.
Special events center committee members will continue to work toward bringing the plan to fruition, with the center as their focal point, Tilleman said. Another group has been formed to spearhead the effort to build the visitor/cultural center, and Great Northern Fair Board members are working on the grandstand and chuckwagon projects. Each group is working with the others to bring the improvements to the hilltop west of town.