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Skypoint set for major renovations after 20+ years of weathering in Billings

Expect street closures in downtown Billings
Posted at 7:49 PM, Sep 08, 2023
and last updated 2023-09-08 21:49:13-04

BILLINGS — When Billings residents ask to meet under Skypoint, there’s no address required, and that was exactly the idea when the famous landmark was built more than 20 years ago. But after 20-plus years in the elements, the city’s Parks and Recreation staff says it’s time for major upgrades.

“It's a unique project, not a lot of people can say they’ve got to work on something like this,” says Cole McQuillan, superintendent of Billings Parks and Recreation.

Drive through downtown and you can’t miss the architectural structure that represents the heart of downtown. It stands at 73 feet tall and weighs 144 tons, but Skypoint is aging.

“Skypoint is going to get a glow up. It is 22 years old,” says Katy Easton, CEO of the Downtown Billings Alliance.

The biggest concerns center around the structure’s canvas shade sails. The largest sail is 100 feet by 40 feet, and many of the sails are full of holes.

“Once they start getting the holes and tearing, you lose that coverage,” says McQuillan. “In the winter, snow and rain and ice will start building up and then melting through those openings, and then re-freeze. And now you’ve got big icicles hanging down, and those could fall, and those are a safety hazard.”

The sun also shines through, but repairs are scheduled to begin Sept. 12 and will close down the intersection to vehicles for a few days. The three-phase project is set to wrap up before winter sets in.

“We have to use an aerial lift truck,” says McQuillan.

Phase one includes fabrication and installation of new canvas sails at a cost of $140,000. Phase two is a $40,000 fresh coat of paint with color to be determined. Phase three is $20,000 to $40,000 worth of electrical upgrades, including programmable LED lights. The project is funded through a Billings City Council-approved tax increment financing grant.

“If we’re celebrating or observing Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October, we could light the sails pink if we wanted to,” says Easton.

All of this is aimed at ensuring Skypoint remains a community focal point, but not everyone embraced that vision when Skypoint was first installed and dedicated in 2002.

"It didn't get universal approval from the community,” says former Billings Mayor Chuck Tooley. “Some people thought it was a monstrosity. When the Eiffel Tower was built, most of Paris thought it was a monstrosity also.”

Tooley dedicated the structure back then and has seen the evolution to what Skypoint now is today.

“We wanted to make this the heart of our community,” says Tooley.

“When we talk about events that are happening, when we talk about downtown in general, we use Skypoint as this kind of directional beacon, this kind of wayfinding point,” says Easton.

From the harvest festival to the holiday parade, people always find their way to Skypoint, and this winter season, you may even see red and green-lit sails when Santa rolls by during the annual parade.

The intersection will be closed to vehicle traffic from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sept. 12-14. Foot traffic will remain open.