Events center back on drafting board
June 18, 2009
Tim Leeds Havre Daily News [email protected]
A diverse group is once again discussing building a center in northcentral Montana to host events ranging from major athletic tournaments to conventions, conferences and concerts, with a shift in proposed location about 16 miles south from the Great Northern Fairgrounds in Havre to Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation. A meeting was held Wednesday at Northern Winz Casino on the reservation, just off of U.S. Highway 87, to work on planning the effort. The proposed center would be built adjacent to the casino, in conjunction with plans to build other facilities, possibly including a hotel and golf course. The group Wednesday included representatives of the Chippewa Cree Tribe, the Hill County government and Montana State University-Northern. A meeting held in May also included members of the Havre Area Chamber of Commerce. One of the key points discussed at Wednesday's meeting was making sure everyone involved had a voice in the discussion and making sure the public knows it is a collaborative effort. “It has to be our plan and not just one person (writing the plan),” said Billi Raining Bird, representing the tribe and the casino. “We need to work to where it's consolidated and allinclusive of all the groups.” The Chippewa Cree Community Development Corp. has submitted an application for an $800,000 federal grant to be used in the planning stages. That entity and the Havre Area Chamber of Commerce, the Hill County Commission, Stone Chi ld Col lege and Montana State University- Northern have signed a memorandum of understanding saying they agree to work together in the planning and development of the facility on the reservation something Louanne Belcourt, a Tribal planner at Rocky Boy, said is a first. “That was really something, and everybody was so cooperative,” she said. Belcourt also said the group needs to share information so everyone is on the same page and the creation of the center benefits everyone. The Tribe needs information on what the local hotel room availability is, what other attractions are in the area and how everyone could benefit. “We need to know why we all need this,” she said. Finding funding One of the discussions Wednesday included finding ways to pay for the project a proposal earlier this decade to build a center at the fairgrounds went by the wayside because of the high cost. That project had an estimated cost of $14.5 million or more, which the county found it could not pay for. Hill County Commissioner Kathy Bessette said that the initial plan was for the county to present a bond issue to the voters to help pay for the fairground facility, which would have been part of a major upgrade to the fairgrounds. That was found to be impossible once the estimated price tag was revealed. “Hill County can't bond for that,” Bessette said. She said the county's maximum bonding authority is $6 million, which includes all county projects. The most the county would be able to provide for such a project through bonding is probably $2 million, she added. Louanne Belcourt said she wants to apply for additional grants to help pay for the facility, which the planning grant would help with. She said she anticipates applying for $7 million to $10 million in grants. The group also discussed researching other options, including holding discussions with experts on tribal financing and with representatives of the federal Economic Development Administration and the state Department of Commerce. Shifting the location but not the impact People at the meeting Wednesday said they believed while changing the location for the center would benefit Rocky Boy more than building at the fairgrounds, it still would have a significant impact on Havre and the region. Kris Hansen, deputy Hill County attorney, said the proposal raised earlier this decade had widespread support. “It's more than just Havre, it's all of Hill County,” she said. “The Hi-Line is all for it, big time.” Bessette agreed. While the center would be located south of town, people would likely still shop in and visit Havre, and even stay in town, she said. Robert “Sonny” Belcourt, natural resources director at Rocky Boy, said the opportunity is to have all of the groups benefit each other. He said the Chippewa Cree Tribe can offer a location that could help all groups. “We have the land and we have the infrastructure,” he said. “You also have access to money. We don't have that,” Bessette added. Planning a concerted effort The group Wednesday discussed presenting a concise, united front to the public, including possibly hiring a marketing firm to research the issue and provide information to the public. Bruce Sunchild, a member of the Chippewa Cree Tribal council, said the group needs to head off any apprehension that might arise with a partnership with the reservation and the perception that it is only a Rocky Boy project. “We don't want that at the beginning or anywhere,” he said. “We want to work together as a community.” The issue of having a concerted effort rose repeatedly during the meeting. The group talked about holding meetings to find what members of the different groups want from a center and what they have to offer to its creation. The group also talked about using different specialties and organizations at the colleges, the business community and the reservation and county to plan and implement the construction of the facility. Some of the options discussed included using in-kind services such as the road departments at Rocky Boy and Hill County, using business expertise to help set up and operate the facility and using the universities to train the people erecting and working in the facility. The next steps The group agreed to meet again in July to bring back the answers to many of the questions raised Wednesday, including what the different entities have to offer and what they are seeking. At that time, the group also could divide into groups suggested by Tribal planner Joan Mitchell to work on different aspects of planning the facility. The group agreed that no meeting would be needed after that until the group finds out what has happened with the application for the planning money, likely to be known in September. “There's not much we can do until we know if we get the grant,” Hansen said.