Tim Leeds Havre Daily News email@example.com
Planning for the North Montana Cultural and Visitor’s Center is continuing, with a final report due from the architect Aug. 1. “It really is going to be an incredible building,” said Jay Pyette of Montana Actors’ Theatre. The architects, L’Heureux Page Warner, who also worked on the Hill County Detention Center in the 1990s, Tuesday met with Pyette and representatives of the Havre Area Chamber of Commerce, tourist groups and representatives of the Hill County government to present their initial plans for the project. The building, planned to be constructed on the northwestern corner of the Great Northern Fairgrounds parking lot next to U.S. Highway 2, will house information about the attractions in the area, the chamber offices and a theater that would be used by MAT and for other events. “They’re going to design the building with a real wow factor,” said Debbie Vandeberg, executive director of the chamber. “We want people to see it and have it draw them in.” Tuesday’s meeting was the first view of the floor plans. Hill County Commissioner Mike Wendland said it was an informational meeting which gave the chamber and MAT a chance to comment on the design and tell the architects what they wanted changed. The idea to build the center started shortly after community members started discussing the construction of a multipurpose center, possibly on the fairgrounds, which could house athletic tournaments, conventions, and other events. Paul Tuss, executive director of Bear Paw Development Corp., said that project is still very much alive but has to be re-examined due to a snag in funding. The original plan involved issuing a county bond to pay for much of the project, estimated at more than $16 million three years ago. Tuss said after looking into the issue more closely, the group planning the project found that the county’s bonding authority could only raise $5 million to $6 million. “We’re in the process of figuring out a reasonable way to raise the money,” he said. “ The interest remains very high on that project.” County Commissioner Kathy Bessette said the H. Earl Clack Memorial Museum board and the Clack Foundation are examining another related project: constructing a building adjacent to the visitor’s center to house the museum, which is now located in the Holiday Village Shopping Center. Bessette said that if the museum were also on the fairgrounds, it would give people driving by on Highway 2 another reason to stop. L’Hereux Page Werner gave an initial estimate of the costs of the visitor’s center Tuesday. The construction cost, including furnishings, landscaping, parking and soft costs like permits, testing and the architect’s fees, come to about $4 million. The operation and maintenance is estimated to run about $47,000 a year. Vandeberg and Pyette both said fundraising, which has already started for the project, will continue. The group will again hold its gala, a martini night or Monte Carlo-style casino night, and a repeat of last year’s dodge ball tournament. Pyette said once more definite costs are known, the group will hire a professional fundraiser to assist in finding money for the project. Bessette said the county will draw up an agreement for the use of the land the center will be on, but it will in no way be a county building. Covering the cost of construction and operation and maintenance will be up to the group organizing the project, she said. Vandeberg said the location of the office and visitor’s center would benefit the chamber. “It gives the chamber something it’s never had: visibility,” she said. The chamber staff would run the visitor’s and cultural center, helping people who stop find out about the area and also selling tickets for events in the theater, she said. Those are activities the chamber typically does now, but having a highly visible location with much better parking will help, she said. Pyette said the theater, which will hold about 350 to 400 people, could be used as a standard theater or arena theater and for dramatic or other presentations like concerts. The intent of building the center will be to bring people in and keep them in Havre and north-central Montana for awhile, he said. The building will tell the story of the area as well as listing tourist attractions and other draws, he said.