By Ross Markman
Last weekend, Montana State University-Northern hosted the NAIA national wrestling tournament in Great Falls. Two weeks earlier, Havre High School hosted the Central A boys basketball divisional tournament, also in Great Falls.
A subcommittee of the Havre Area Chamber of Commerce has applied for a $1 million federal grant to build a multipurpose complex in Havre a facility that would enable the city and its schools to host these tournaments right here at home.
"We're looking to be able to host some of the events that have been leaving town lately," said Brent Reber, a member of the Chamber's board of directors.
"Everything is so preliminary. This is just a vision and a dream that's come out of the board of directors," Reber added. "Really, until we receive a professional feasibility study, we don't know if this project is even feasible."
That's where the $1 million comes in. The money would fund the study as well as preconstruction costs like design and site surveying, Reber said.
Reber said Hill County Commissioner Kathy Bessette hand-delivered the grant application to the Washington, D.C., office of U.S. Sen. Max Baucus on Friday.
The subcommittee, Reber added, was made aware of the available grant money by Paul Tuss, executive director of Bear Paw Development Corp., a local organization aimed at developing the Havre area's economy.
"What we're asking for is preconstruction costs," Tuss said. "This is a really good project that would allow us to host conventions, tournaments and meetings things we simply can't compete for on a major scale."
The concept of building a multipurpose facility is one that has circulated in Havre for several years, Reber said. In fact, he believes the Havre Ice Dome and Bigger Better Barn actually began as larger ideas.
"I don't believe those were the venues the dream started with," he said.
It wasn't until last year's annual Chamber retreat that the board of directors established the subcommittee, focused on the idea of constructing a multipurpose facility in Havre.
And right now, that's all it is, Reber said an idea.
"The only work that we've really done is to try to get support from the local leaders in town like the college, high school, mayor and commissioners," he said. "Everybody seems to be on board."
Havre mayor Bob Rice said a multipurpose facility would not only provide a venue for sporting events, it would also be a huge boost to the city's economy.
"It's a resource we should have done a long time ago. It's something we really need to pursue," Rice said. "Once you get a facility like that, a lot of ideas are generated."
Kirk Miller, superintendent of Havre Public Schools, agreed.
"If you set aside the concerns like how much it would cost, I believe it would enhance the economic development in our area, having the ability to bring attractions to Havre," Miller said. "We could host the tournaments if we had a facility large enough."
The proposed facility could also be used to host trade shows, concerts or theater productions, Reber said.
"We want this place to be a true multipurpose facility. We don't want it to strictly be a sporting venue," he said. "We want it to be something for everybody in the community."
If Congress approves the $1 million, the subcommittee would receive the money no sooner than October, Reber said. And as for potential costs or sites for the multipurpose center, that is yet to be decided.
"There's absolutely no predetermined area or location for this facility. We want to go into this thing with a totally open mind," Reber said. "We're warming up for this race, and the race doesn't begin until the gun goes off with the feasibility study."