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Commissioners question if ‘One Big Sky District’ could create unhealthy competition for MetraPark

Posted at 6:06 PM, Jan 17, 2019
and last updated 2019-07-17 14:50:25-04

BILLINGS- Supporters and city leaders Thursday pitched the perks of One Big Sky District to Yellowstone County commissioners.

Their message was clear: Competition in Billings is good. But many questions exist about the project and its impact.

Commissioner John Ostlund has voiced his concern about the project and its effect on MetraPark, doing so at a recent One Big Sky District informational meeting.

Ostlund said he has many questions about how the funding will work and the Legislature’srole, as well as what competition from another venue could mean for MetraPark.

In return, Steve Arveschoug and others with Big Sky Economic Development in Billings presented the vision, benefits and projected funding avenue to the commissioners in hopes of shedding some light and gaining “buy-in” on the proposal.

Arveschoug said one of the biggest goals of the One Big Sky is to attract and retain workforce and encourage private investment.

“We have slow growth that frankly that is going to place an ongoing burden on our tax base,” said Arveschoug.

The proposal has four anchors for the Billings downtown core, considered to be multi-dimensional.

The first is a lifestyle district which would ideally drive residents into the downtown core and include a year-round public market.

Then, there is a wellness district, which would bring a convergence of healthcare into the downtown, including senior housing.

Third, an education and innovation district which would be built around MSUB, growing the campus to have a connection with the hospital corridor and hopefully bringing a medical school to Billings.

The fourth is the convention and entertainment district or the idea of ‘Montana Station,’ which would be an active 90,000-square-foot convention center, taking up two blocks and bringing trade shows, concerts, and sporting events all walkable to downtown.

“The plan gives us a framework for the decision making that is to come,” Arveschoug told commissioners.

Allison Corbyn, the director of business recruitment for Big Sky Economic Development, shared the four main goals breaking down the economic effect each would ideally bring to Billings and to Montana.

“We need to address our future workforce dilemma,” said Corbyn, something she said is needed in the face of Billings’ aging workforce.

Presenters to the commissioners believe Billings is falling behind in attracting tourism dollars and visitors for a city of its size, and they have the statistics to prove it.

Corbyn said Montana ranks 46th in the nation for recruiting millennial population.

“We are in the back of the pack,” she said.

Still, after all of that Ostlund said he still needs to know more about the project and as a leader for the county, managing MetraPark is forefront on his mind.

“Running an event center like MetraPark, of course, we have some questions about what competition will do and we have heard some of the input that they think can complement each other. I think in some cases it can, in other cases it likely will be competitive,” said Ostlund.

Still, those with Big Sky Economic Development say One Big Sky is not a threat to MetraPark and look to the project as the economic driving force for all Billings’ concert and event venues.

“This only enhances the attendance of major events like the NILE and MontanaFair,” said Stefan Cattarin, who heads sales at Visit Billings.

He believes a comprehensive convention center as a part of One Big Sky would complement MetraPark, not hinder it. He also said many times Billings is passed over as an option for big-name concerts and tradeshows because it doesn’t have a space that can compete with other cities, such as Fargo, N.D., and Sioux Falls, S.D.

“They are knocking on our door but we don’t have the venue,” said Cattarin.

In the meantime, the next step for One Big Sky District is next week when the Billings City Council considers the development plan. Council members will vote Monday night.