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Billings group prepares to propose new recreational center plan

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Posted at 8:13 AM, Mar 05, 2024

BILLINGS - The South Billings Urban Renewal Association (SBURA) wants to try again for a rec center at Amend Park.

The group says it will not take any extra tax money and it is exploring what is possible with the money available.

"We definitely want to try to get four courts and two sheets of ice and the 25-meter 10-lane swimming pool,” said Dick Zier, SBURA consultant. “But it just kind of depends on what the cost will be."

Zier said the plan is scaled down from the proposed $113 million multi-generational recreation center that was part of a $143 million bond issue that the voters turned down in November.

The new potential plan would eliminate offices and be just for sports.

"Build without having to have a bond issue and we don't want a mill levy,” said Zier. “And we want to cover the operating losses which we have a plan for that and then have a plan for management."

The SBURA board had proposed contributing $25 million from South Billings Urban Renewal District, a tax increment finance (TIF) district, for the previous plan and wants to use that same money.

Zier spoke at the Billings City Council work session on Monday night.

"It already is taxpayer money,” Council member Denise Joy said about the TIF money. “It didn't come from the sky. It came from the owners of property on the South Side."

Joy said her comments were not aimed at Zier, but at the council for when SBURA is ready to present a plan.

In Livingston, the 4 Ranges Foundation has raised $19 million so far to build a privately financed $25.5 billion Wellness Center.

"This project has been discussed for literally 30 years,” said Chase Rose, campaign manager for the project. “There were a number of really inspired donors that came together from day one of this project. Arthur Blank, Diana Blank. And a number of community members really saw a tremendous need in Park County."

Voters will decide on March 19 whether or not they want to organize the Livingston Recreation Facility District to pay for operations and maintenance.

"The facility is free of through these donors’ generosity,” Rose said. “But they'll be able to weigh in at the ballot box on covering some of the operations."

Some private money was pledged last year for the Magic City plan and some of that may still be available this time.

Zier's group manages the TIF money to remedy blight in South Billings and he says the rec center would help.

"The goal of that TIF district is for business development and removal of blight and making it better quality of life," Zier said.