City funds study for new multipurpose center


After more than 20 years of dreaming about a community multipurpose center, Havre may finally know if such a project is meant to be.

On Monday, the Havre City Council approved a $20,000 local match for a preliminary architectural report, which would be what Bear Paw Development Corp. executive director Paul Tuss called a "classic feasibility study."

The report is expected to cost about $40,000. The city is using $20,000 from a city fund to improve low-income housing to match a $20,000 state grant. Both pots of money are provided by the federal Community Development Block Grant Program.

Tuss said this morning he hopes to know next month whether Havre is awarded the CDBG grant. If it is, he said, the city will advertise and accept bids for the feasibility study, which he hopes would be done by the end of the year.

Among other things, it will determine where the facility should be built, how big it should be, and type of functions it should have. The council would eventually have the final say in approving the location and other recommendations of the study.

The study might also determine that the facility is not feasible.

City Council members discussed that risk but in the end decided the benefits of the center would outweigh the risks of spending money on the study.

"I'm being point-blank honest here," Havre Mayor Bob Rice said. "We are the cash cow for this to happen. If you choose for it not to happen, this will be another of 35 attempts since 1977 that have gone by the wayside."

Rice said he had reservations about the risk involved, but said he believes the project is good for Havre.

Tuss said that if the project is found to be feasible, it could mean bringing a bond issue before voters years down the road to pay for the construction.

The match will be taken out of the city of Havre's CDBG Program Income Fund, which provides loans to lower-income people to fix up their homes.

The $134,600 fund is controlled by the City Council, Tuss said.

The council's lone dissenting vote was by Emily Mayer, who also sits on the housing program's loan review committee. On Monday afternoon the committee approved the transfer of funds by a 5-3 margin.

"I believe that this is a very, very good project for Havre to have," Mayer said of the multipurpose center, but "There's other ways to make this happen, not just taking money from the Program Income Fund, which was made for low-income people to fix their homes."

Mayer said there had been interest in multipurpose center from about 20 groups, and communities as far away as Fort Benton, and that all of those groups would benefit from the center.

"I think it's appropriate that other people take the risk alongside the city of Havre," she said, referring to the possibility that the study concludes that the project is not feasible, resulting in a $20,000 loss.

Havre Area Chamber of Commerce executive director Debbie Vandeberg spoke in favor of the project before the vote, as well as members of the Chamber of Commerce multipurpose committee.

"You're either growing or you're not growing," committee member Craig Tilleman told the council. "This may or may not be a feasible job, but we won't know" unless the study is done, he said.

Tuss said the last time a feasibility study was done for a similar center was in 1982. "For whatever reason that wasn't pursued," he said.

With plans for a theater and an arena in the center, community leaders hope the center would spur economic development by drawing people from around the state to sports tournaments, agricultural trade shows and cultural activities.


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