County Commission backs visitors center


The idea came from a newspaper story, the approval from the Hill County Commission.

The commission voted unanimously today to allocate nearly 70 percent of its CTEP dollars for this year and all of next year's to build a visitors center just west of Havre. Located on the northwest corner of the Hill County Fairgrounds, the center will ultimately house the Havre Area Chamber of Commerce and serve as the headquarters of the Great Northern Fair Board.

Through CTEP, the Community Transportation Enhancement Program, the Federal Highway Administration distributes money for projects ranging from landscaping to sidewalk maintenance to historic preservation. Craig Erickson, planner at Bear Paw Development Corp., oversees county and city CTEP projects.

Erickson came up with the idea for the center after reading a Havre Daily News story last July about the potential Lewis and Clark tourism explosion on the Hi-Line and how there's little money to market tourist sites.

"The idea was, Why don't we create a visitors center that's highly visible, has parking and tells the story of all these places we have in our area," Erickson said last month. "And we owe the project to the Havre Daily News."

The county has committed $39,950 this year to the project, leaving its CTEP balance at about $18,000. Last month, the commission had said it would commit its entire CTEP budget $57,035 to the project.

"You're actually obligating a little less money than we originally talked about," Erickson told the commissioners today.

The estimated total cost of the project is $200,000, with about $115,000, Erickson hopes, eventually coming from the county.

"If we can't build something for that, I think we're getting a little grandiose in our thinking," Erickson said.

Erickson is hopeful the county will also receive a grant through the Transportation Infrastructure Investment Program from the Montana Department of Commerce. If it doesn't get the grant, Erickson said, the county can always use more CTEP money.

"I think we can put together a pretty compelling application for the TIIP grant," Erickson said. "This project matches the TIIP program right down the line."

County Commissioner Doug Kaercher suggested during the commissioners' meeting that the city of Havre might want to contribute since the center will serve the entire community. The goal is to complete the facility by 2005, he said.

Havre Mayor Bob Rice said today that he supports the project, but said the city has no money in its coffers to commit to it.

"That's out of the city limits. We can't chip in," Rice said. "There's no city money involved, so it's not really an issue for me."

The deadline to apply for the CTEP money is Thursday, Erickson said. He'll apply for the TIIP grant next summer.


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