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Bill to boost urban economic development in Montana dead in Legislature, but efforts in Billings continue

Posted at 11:09 PM, Mar 29, 2019
and last updated 2019-07-17 14:49:41-04

BILLINGS – A bill meant to boost urban economic development projects statewide, including the One Big Sky District in Billings, died in the Legislature Thursday.

Supporters in Billings are disappointed at the bill known as 406 Impact Districts but not ready to give up on local efforts.

We have put a lot of time and energy behind this but I don’t want to the value of all of that work that we have done. So I think this has laid a foundation for where we go in the future,” said Steve Arveschoug, executive director of Big Sky Economic Development.

The proposed One Big Sky project includes four core districts, each with its own anchor focused on lifestyle, education, and a health and wellness district. Backers hoped it would transform downtown Billings.

“Our goal would be to try and attract private investment using our existing suite of economic development tools. It makes that road much much more difficult, but we still need to have those conversations,” Arveschoug said. “There is still work to do as a community and a state, which is part of why they were advocating for the 406 impact district tool that could probably help communities across the state of Montana.”

The legislation would have allowed Montana cities to create urban economic development districts, which would have allowed local governments to contribute $75 million to certain projects that had already gained $300 million in private development.

The bill was modeled after One Big Sky, which hit a snag in February when the Billings City Council voted to end its contract with the largest private developer, Landmark Development. The Council later voted to formally endorse the bill in the Legislature, but it wasn’t enough to push the bill over the finish line.

Arveschoug said they have laid a strong script for the future of Billings and how it can look. They just need to build the resolve to move forward in a thoughtful way.