BILLINGS – The city of Billings will move forward with the effort to transform downtown, but not with full support of the City Council.
In a decision late Monday, council voted 6 to 5 in favor of the agreement to invest $100,000 of city money into the development and planning of the One Big Sky District.
Councilmembers Mike Yakawich, Denise Joy, Penny Ronning, Reg Gibbs, Shaun Brown, and Mayor Bill Cole voted in favor while councilmembers Brent Cromley, Larry Brewster, Frank Ewalt, Chris Friedel, and Dick Clark rejected the funding.
Those who spoke against took issue with placing the burden of the project’s future on the taxpayers, saying the funds could be better used elsewhere.
Nearly two years after the unveiling of a large project to build a skyscraper — which has transformed into revamping two major areas in downtown instead — now has an agreement in place to propel the idea to the next step.
Prior to Monday’s decision to approve $100,000 of general funds to the Memorandum of Understanding with Hammes Company, Landmark LLC., private businesses have invested thousands of dollars to keep the pursuing the project.
The partners, including the city, Big Sky Economic Development the Billings Chamber of Commerce, the Tourism Business Improvement District (TBID) and the Downtown Billings Partnership, have been negotiating an agreement to supply the $675,000 local investment in the planning work.
The agreement includes the Yesteryear’s Antique building in downtown as a $400,000 line of credit.
Nearly all of those who provided testimony on Monday spoke in favor of the money to fund the partnership forward as a way to grow Billings for the future.
"Some things take time," said Steve Arveschoug, Big Sky Economic Development executive director. "This is a 5, 10, 15, 20-year endeavor and to think different, I don’t think we’re being honest with ourselves. East Billings Urban Renewal District, when the master plan was done, we all looked at each other and said, ‘This is a 20-, 30-year undertaking.’ So, it will take time, but it’s done so that it can provide a platform for action."
The councilmembers who questioned the use of the funds said constituents reached out to them with a majority against pouring $100,000 into the project.
Mayor Bill Cole said he was disappointed more councilmembers were not on board.
"I regret that. We need a broader base of support. I hope we can work together to build that base or move in some alternate direction. I think it’s really important we work together as a community and hope those who voted against that will agree with that."
Dozens of civic leaders will visit Allentown, Penn. in the next few weeks to tour the town Hammes has helped transform.
City Council also approved a final reading on adding a $5 surcharge to all citations issued by the Billings Police Department. Those funds would support an electronic citation system. Currently police and the city writes and processes citations by hand.
A preview of the vote: