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As massive 400-page One Big Sky plan released, still no legislative bill

Posted at 6:34 PM, Jan 28, 2019
and last updated 2019-07-17 14:50:19-04

BILLINGS- Five hundred pages of in-depth research on Billings’ economic future: that’s how big the blueprint for One Big Sky now looks.

Over the weekend, the massive several-hundred-page development plan was delivered to city leaders and Monday community members met again to ask questions and get answers about the plan.

Now they have the next several weeks to read over it before the issue is again before the Billings City Council on Feb 11.

The report compares 22 convention centers around the region and Montana.

The Montana Station convention center, as it’s proposed in One Big Sky, would be larger than the Convention Center in Tacoma, Wash., and the Provo, Utah Convention Center.

Bismarck, N.D. has a sizable convention center in comparison with 149,000 square feet of useable space. In the Northwest, Spokane, Wash. has the largest convention center which can house 274,000 useable square feet.

Montana Station is anticipating a 170,000-square-foot convention center.

However, the location of that convention center within the footprint of One Big Sky is still not determined.

The report also talks about a gap in the Billings economy, which is preventing meaningful development that is financially viable. Rent levels, according to the plan, will not support development costs long-term nor give a reasonable return on capital. That, in turn, leads to a lack of new construction, aging supply, and high vacancy rates. The plan says in order to break that cycle; Billings must induce demand and lower costs.

The plan also dives into the issue of population, anticipating that Billings will see a 6 percent growth in population in the next five years, with the largest age group in the 25 to 34 range.

Often though, those with Big Sky Economic Development talk about Billings’ aging workforce as a motive and drive for Billings to adopt One Big Sky.

The current population of Billings sits at roughly 116,000 people. However, according to the report’s population research, the largest growing age group is those 25 to 34 making up 13 percent of the city’s population by the year 2023.

The report also talks about the need to grow what Billings already has; major employers. Big employers such as Billings Clinic, and St. Vincent Healthcare, First Interstate Bank, Wells Fargo, and Albertsons are key factors in growing the economy in the four anchor districts.

And of course, funding is key with One Big Sky, and the plan outlines a very comprehensive report of revenue sources and how a return on investment will help push Montana’s economy as a whole, forward.

If approved, One Big Sky could garner $1 billion in state reimbursement dollars within just 10 years of its existence.

However, how does this all start?

The Big Sky Economic Development is pushing for a legislative measure to help, in part.

Monday, Billings lawmaker Roger Webb said he has yet to unveil his sponsored bill that would serve as a legislative tool for formulating a plan to fund the One Big Sky plan.

With 16 days into the 66th legislature, his measure has yet to get a bill number, a committee or a hearing. Webb said at this time in the session, the legislature is deep in revenue talks.

The plan can be viewed here.

Related: Commissioners question if One Big Sky District; could create unhealthy competition for MetraPark

Related: Could this be the future of downtown Billings? New renderings released for One Big Sky District

Related: Developers unveil new blueprint for One Big Sky District at Billings City Council meeting