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Yellowstone County Commissioner Bill Kennedy, Democrat, announced his candidacy for re-election. The run is for his fourth full-six year term. Kennedy said that the primary reason he is running for re-election is because he loves the job and the people of Yellowstone County.
Kennedy was first elected as County Commissioner in 1992 when he successfully ran to complete two years of a term being vacated by Dwight McKay.
The Small Business Administration’s District Director, Joe McClure, presented an award in Billings to Big Sky Economic Development Corporation naming the organization as Montana’s 2011 Top Performing Certified Development Company Lender. Brandon Berger and Pam Bolin accepted on behalf of the organization. Big Sky EDC approved 16 loans totaling $12,567,000. SBA 504 loans are used by small businesses to finance owner-occupied commercial real estate and equipment.
Big Sky Economic Development Corporation was designated a “Certified Development Company” in 2005 by the SBA, which gave the organization the credentials needed to start a 504 loan program. This year’s award is the third time Big Sky EDC has taken home the honor, also winning in 2008 and 2009.
As of January 1, Montana’s minimum wage is scheduled to go up again on New Years’ Day.
The Economic Policy Institute says the increase will directly benefit 15,000 workers in the state.
The state’s minimum wage will increase 30 cents to $7.65 an hour. The institute says that means an extra $624 per year in wages for a full-time minimum wage worker.
The increase comes as a result of an initiative Montana voters adopted in 2006 that established annual cost of living increases.
The City of Billings is looking for private investors interested in developing retail or residential space in the Historic District of Billings on Montana Avenue between North 27th and 28th Streets.
The project will supplement a plan to build a parking garage which will fill the current shortage of parking spaces in that area.
Working through the Downtown Billings Partnership, Inc. (DBA) the city issued an inquiry last week seeking investors who would be interested in owning a portion of the proposed "mixed use, multi-level, parking structure/development" on a condominium basis, explained Greg Krueger, DBA Director.
Called the Empire Parking Garage Project, the City of Billings has already purchased property in the half block area to facilitate a plan to build a structure with 522 parking stalls. The property includes that of the Northern Hotel's parking garage, the lot of the former Empire Bar and the Windsor Court Building.
The city used tax increment funds to purchase the property, at a cost of over $2 million. The process has eliminated that much property value from the tax rolls, and since that isn't, at all, the purpose of tax increment districts, said Krueger, the plan is to replace at least that much value, and more, through the investment of private developers. The goal is to have a "stable and growing tax base, and to stimulate other investment." They hope that 20-30 percent of the final project will be privately owned (about 20,000 square feet of residential or retail space).
Also in acquiring the property, 220 parking spaces were eliminated. The previous owners of those spaces already have commitments to purchase as many again, when the parking garage is completed. Those lots will then be back on the tax rolls and will be maintained and managed by private sector investors, said Krueger. The rest of the parking garage will join the four other parking facilities which are managed by the City of Billings, Parking Division.
It is necessary, said Krueger, for tax increment funds to subsidize the cost of developing parking in downtown Billings because the actual cost of developing parking is otherwise prohibitive. "That's the reason tax increment districts were created," he said.
The parking project is vital to the redevelopment of almost 200,000 sq. ft. of vacant hotel and office building space as well as tenant parking for about 60,000 sq. ft. of fully redeveloped office space, he said.
The major source of funding for the Empire Parking Garage Project (about 68%) will be a planned bonding of the Expanded North 27th Street Tax Increment District. The additional construction /design funding will come from Fund 203 (N. 27th TIFD account), about $800,000 in FY 2012. as well as the agreed upon sale of about 212 of the structure's parking spaces and about 17,200 sq. ft. of the street level retail to Zootist, Inc. and Alley Cat Investments, LLC.
If they fail to get the private interest they want at the outset of the project, they will probably proceed with the project with the idea of eventually selling the space, said Krueger.
Krueger is optimistic that there will be interested parties, however, since the area is already a vibrant one. He said that he believes there is a demand for more retail space in the area – especially, small unique space that accommodates "mom and pop" types of establishments. There may also be a need for additional residential space, said Krueger, since all residential space in the downtown area is occupied.
Krueger is more than anxious to see the project launched. It's one that has been in the planning for five years, and is currently awaiting the City Council to issue a request for proposal. Krueger said demolition of the existing structures on the half block will begin early in the spring and he hopes construction will begin shortly thereafter. Construction should take from 12 to 18 months, he said.
The DBA functions on a contract basis with the City of Billings, managing the tax increment districts and making recommendations as to how to invest the tax increment revenues.
Organizational efforts aimed at directing the development of an area in front of MetraPark have resumed this year. Members of the Trailhead Hospitality Corridor Vision Steering Committee met on Jan. 6, and plan to continue meetings once every two months to continue an effort that was launched during the past year.
The group is comprised of representatives from a wide variety of community groups including the City of Billings, Yellowstone County, the Billings Chamber of Commerce, Big Sky Economic Development Authority, the East Billings Urban Renewal District (EBURD), MetraPark, as well as others.
A $1.81 million contract to provide health services for Yellowstone County Detention Facility was approved on Tuesday, by Yellowstone County Commissioners. Characterized as a prototype effort, the terms of the agreement are expected to be revisited as experience might suggest, said both parties to the contract, which is expected to deliver immediate health care and dental services to inmates over an 18 month period.
One of the terms that will be closely scrutinized, by at least two commissioners, is a provision that calls for a five percent override of direct and indirect costs, which Commissioner Jim Reno said appeared to be a "profit," and he doesn't believe that a government agency should be making a profit. But, he said, since they have spent many months trying to get to this point in crafting an agreement and have backed off several times in the past, he believes it is now time "to take the plunge."
Yellowstone County Commissioners proceeded with an action to abandon a portion of South 32nd Street West, despite the opposition of unions.
Representatives of a number of unions from throughout the state were present at the meeting on Tuesday to urge the county commissioners to sell – not abandon – an easement back to the property owner, since the property owner, Bay Limited (formerly Berry Y&V), is not a union shop -- and they claim the company is not hiring locally.
Yellowstone County Commissioners and Riverstone Health have reached agreement regarding a contract that will henceforth govern the provision of health services that Riverstone will provide to the inmates of the Yellowstone County Detention Services. The agreement took longer than anticipated, and still has details that will have to be ironed out as the two entities plunge into unchartered waters.
The plan is a "prototype," explained Deputy County Attorney Kevin Gillen to County Commissioners in submitting the final draft. He said that the 18 month contract can be modified as needed, as they progress into the new arrangement that will provide inmates with immediate medical care and dental services. The contract will become effective in January 2012 and run through June 2013.
The Big Sky Business Journal
P.O. Box 3262
Billings, MT 59103