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Billings City Council hears about repairs needed on Babcock Theatre

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Posted at 11:02 PM, Mar 18, 2024
and last updated 2024-03-19 08:01:17-04

BILLINGS - The Babcock Improvements Committee made a presentation at a Billings City Council work session on Monday night.

Theater management talked about the history of the Babcock Theatre, which has been owned by the city since 2018, as well as some of the maintenance that needs to be done on the marquee and other parts of the theater.

The theater was built in 1907 and the marquee was installed with the renovation in 1955.

"This whole building and theater is on the National Historic Registry,” said Matt Blakeslee, Art House Billings executive director. “And so we're not looking to change anything or move anything. Just update and make sure that it looks as is, but just brand new. That shiny jewel and downtown Billings."

Art House manages the Babcock and Blakeslee is part of the committee.

He says it is estimated the marquee will cost about $150,000 to upgrade and repair.

"The biggest issues with the marquee right now, obviously it's incredibly large and it collects a lot of water and where does that water go and how is it sealed?” Blakeslee said. “Those kinds of things and so that's a lot of the work we need to do. A lot of the metal plating has been rusted out and so putting new metal plating, repainting it. We have updated all of the lights to LEDs. We keep the historic neon going as well."

Blakeslee says the committee is asking the city for help only with the marquee.

Through the years Art House has already paid for $100,000 in repairs and it will take care of some of the other needed maintenance projects,

"The structural things with the sidewalk, the entryway, the exterior doors, those kinds of things,” Blakeslee said. “We at Art House are fully committed to making that happen, independent of what the city will put in fund-wise. The marquee is just so iconic and such a large thing to bite off and try to chew on our own that we thought we'd bring the city in and ask for some help."

The council talked about the possibility of selling the Babcock.

“I would say it's more the process and what the steps would be for the council to take,” said Councilman Roy Neese.

And the council decided to have the city staff look into what that will take.

“I also agree this is probably premature but at least we'll start the conversation,” said Mayor Bill Cole.

“This thing matters to the city of Billings,” Blakeslee said. “Hundreds of thousands of people have shown us that over the last five years of running this space. And so we see it as an incredible honor to continue to be to manage this space."