BILLINGS – The Billings City Council said yes to the One Big Sky project Monday night, and backers are moving on to the next step: the Montana Legislature.
On Tuesday, a group of city and business leaders and project developers traveled to Helena to lobby for state support for the project, which backers say will revamp Billings’ downtown and boost the regional economy.
Steve Arveschoug, executive director of Big Sky Economic Development, said the group is working to refine a draft bill to introduce by March 1.
Monday night’s 7-3 council vote sets a framework for a lot of decisions, and Mayor Bill Cole says, “going forward the top priority is to work with our legislators to get them to approve this development tool.”
If they don’t, Cole says, the project isn’t dead.
“It’ll be back to square two. not square one, because we have a great plan and great research and have engaged the community in great conversation. But we have very few tools to incentivize developers,” Cole said in an interview with Q2 Tuesday.
Arveschoug, Cole and developer Bob Dunn with the Hammes Group are all in Helena speaking with lawmakers.
Arveschoug said the bottom line is Billings is in a competition for talent because talent attracts private investment and business growth and communities around Billings are engaged in that competition
In January, leaders of the One Big Sky development unveiled the massive several-hundred-page, in-depth final draft plans to the City Council for the proposed project.
The plan calls for a large private investment to be matched with public money from the city’s tax-increment finance district.
“I am putting my money at risk on this plan,” Dunn told the Council Monday. “A consultant delivers you a work product and they go home tomorrow. That is not why I am here. I am here because significant opportunities where we can help drive growth in the city of Billings and realize a positive economic gain from that investment both for you and for the private sector. “