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Looking at a price tag that falls about $5 million short of being what Yellowstone County can afford, county commissioners asked consultants to restructure their recommendations so that the improvements to Rimrock Auto Arena may be done in two phases.
After reviewing, on Thursday, the ideas, designs and cost estimates presented by Populous and CTA Architects, it became readily apparent that while insurance is expected to cover an approximate $16 million of costs, an additional $8.8 million that the county would have to pick up, is more than double the budget the county has set aside to address the rebuilding of the arena, following the damage it suffered from a tornado.
And, that includes an addition of $560,000 that County Director of Finance Scott Turner announced the county is adding to the pot, which is the expected proceeds from the sale of county property for a dog park. The addition increased the $4.2 million the county set aside, to $4.85 million.
By dividing the proposed improvements into two phases, county commissioners are able to keep the first phase on track for an early spring opening of the arena; and they will be able to keep open the possibility of putting a mill levy proposal before the voters to determine if they want to ante up the difference in property taxes. Going out for a bond levy will add time to the schedule, which if done for Phase One would delay the time before Metra could start scheduling events and generating revenues.
The Billings Area Chamber of Commerce is, in fact, championing the idea of putting two levy requests before the voters before year’s end for the purpose of doing more improvements for MetraPark.
But, dividing the project into two phases “doesn’t come without a cost,” pointed out Kurt Amundsen, Senior Associate of Populous. Some items in the second phase will wind up costing more.
The two phases will have to be dealt with as two separate construction projects, said Keith Rupert, CEO of CTA. The second phase would probably not start until early next summer.
With many business people believing that this is the time to do all the improvements necessary to keep MetraPark a competitive entity, the Chamber conducted a survey of its membership, last week, asking whether they would support two levy requests of $10 million each, and whether they thought the Chamber should take the lead in championing the cause. The survey came back strongly supportive of both levies, and with a nod of approval that the Chamber should take the lead.
The purpose of the first $10 million bond levy would be to address the enhancements that the county cannot afford, and the second would address fulfilling some of the master plans for other areas of MetraPark, including the grandstand and barns.
County officials and consultants sat around a conference table at CTA, on Thursday morning, adding up the costs of additional toilets, elevators and new entrances -- and as the schematics and figures were presented, it became apparent that “we are gong to run out of funding,” said Turner.
Commissioners Bill Kennedy and John Ostlund (Jim Reno was absent) identified priorities that could be met within their budget. In addition to approximately $2.2 million in items that were previously approved (including additional office space, an improved sound system, and front entry enhancements) the commissioners rounded off the balance with plans to include $1.2 million in additional toilets, as well as accommodating additional concession space, locker room HVAC system, and Kalwall roofs at the exits.
Kennedy pointed out that that would leave unaddressed proposals for a southwest entrance and café, two additional elevators, handicap access, and a skybridge to the upper parking lot – most of which are important to “improved functionality.” Kennedy said that he objected to calling the items “enhancements.” “They aren’t enhancements,” he said, “they are necessities; we just don’t have the budget for them.” They came to be called “enhancements” because that is what the insurance company called anything above and beyond their replacement costs, it was explained.
[The total to the county might actually be more if the cost of code compliance exceeds the $1 million cap that the insurance company will reimburse. Populous has estimated the cost of code compliance at $1.3 million. Also, consultants recommended that contractors do some of the foundation work for the additional restrooms planned for the second phase while they are in the ground during the first phase. How much that will add to the cost of the first phase was not immediately known.]
Kennedy said, “a bond issue like the Chamber is interested in would do most of the rest of the proposals,” in the second phase.
Ostlund said that a bond levy request would have a “higher chance of success if the Chamber is behind it.” But, he said, “there has to be a public process” and the public will have to be informed about what it will do.
Rupert said that it looked like it would take at least 120 days to get a bond levy approved. They probably wouldn’t know the outcome until January or February.
Earlier in the week, The Metra Park Advisory Board held their regular monthly meeting and pondered how they wanted to respond to a request from the Chamber for their support of the property tax levies.
“It’s coming from a credible entity, and we could do significant damage if we just say ‘no,’” said board member Todd Buchanan. It was a sentiment with which most of the board seemed to agree, but most of the board also seemed to want more information before committing to anything. They appointed a committee to draft a letter in response to the query from the Chamber.
Barry Usher, Vice Chairman of the Metra Park Advisory Board, was in attendance at a Chamber meeting discussing the matter, and he said he was one of the few voices in opposition. He said he was opposed because there is no plan. “How do you sell that to the community?” he asked.
The County Commissioners, said Usher, have also voiced opposition for the same reason. “Commissioners have been very clear that they want exact numbers,” he said.
Chairman of the MetraPark Advisory Board Ken Fitchner, said, “The Chamber’s point is well taken. Now is the time to do it.” But he too worried about the lack of a specific plan. “It is all conceptual,” he said. Fitchner appointed the committee to write a response, he said, because he wanted to “keep the dialogue open.”
There was discussion about where the idea to push for the additional levies came from – members of the Metra Park Advisory Board were not part of the process, and neither were Yellowstone County Commissioners.
The catalyst was the master planning done by Populous the company hired by CTA Architects in the process of reconstructing Rimrock Auto Arena. The county commissioners asked that Populous carry their work further and make a master plan for the “backside” of MetraPark.
Fitchner and others commented on how fortunate they are to have a firm of the caliber of Populous involved in the future development of MetraPark. He explained that the company is a global design firm, formerly HOK Sports, which specializes in the development of sports arenas, civic centers, and stadiums around the world. One of their most recent projects was the building of the Red Sox stadium.
It was noted that no one from the board nor MetraPark Administrators were consulted in the master planning. But, Metra Comptroller Jodi Klind interjected that there was some effort to include staff members, but it was during Montana Fair and no one had time.
Klind further commented, “This facility is very under funded. I would support the plan.” And, Klind added further, “The whole tax base for this facility needs to be looked at.”
She went on to say that she didn’t think it made sense to build something that is not sustainable. That is what happened before. “They built these buildings” with no plan as to how to maintain them. She said, “You can build, but if you can’t staff it and maintain it, why build it?”
It was asked how they came up with the determination of $10 million in both instances.
Usher said that it seemed to be based on “the threshold of pain that the taxpayers would tolerate.”
Fitchner said that the statement was made at the Commerce meeting that they “shouldn’t waste a crisis.”
Jeff Mrachek, another board member, said that there was a sense of “striking while the iron is hot.” They wanted to get ballots out by mid-November, because they believe there is less chance of it passing after the holidays.
Any ballot issue must be approved first by Yellowstone County Commissioners.
The Big Sky Business Journal
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Billings, MT 59103