As a teenager, Peter Yegen III helped trail dozens of bulls from his granddad’s ranch, now part of the Peter Yegen Jr. Golf Club, up Zimmerman Trail.
The yearly trip from the ranch to summer pasture in the Bull Mountains took three or four days on horseback in the late 1920s and early ‘30s, back when Senior High sat on the western edge of town.
Now one of those cattle trails leading up to Rimrocks is Shiloh Road, the fastest-growing commercial street in Montana’s largest city.
Shiloh Crossing on the southeastern corner of Shiloh and King Avenue West went from raw land to more than 40 stores in less than a decade. The majority of the growth came in just three years since Shiloh Road was widened to four lanes and improved, including sewer, water and roundabouts.
First Interstate Bank’s latest building will open in April, and the behemoth Scheels opens in September.
To the west across Shiloh, Montana Sapphire is half full with construction in full swing on the Affinity for Living complex, a Rimrock GMC/Cadillac dealership opening in January and a ring of apartment buildings surrounding the subdivision.
Yegen, who turns 95 on Dec. 27, said “that’s progress” and showed no nostalgia for the ranch and farm land now being topped by buildings and pavement.
“That’s just the way the town is growing. It’s just great the way it has developed,” he said.
Local developers Steve Corning and Joel Long and his family filled in a gravel pit at King and Shiloh and quickly turned it into Shiloh Crossing.
The first major retail store, Kohl’s, opened in 2008, followed by the Shiloh 14 theater. When it opens next September, Scheels’ 220,000-square-foot sporting goods store with a saltwater aquarium and Ferris wheel inside will be the subdivision’s third anchor store. Only Sparks, Nev., has a larger Scheels.
The 111-year-old Fargo, N.D., company chose Shiloh Crossing for its fourth expansion in Billings because the real estate is hot, said president Steven M. Scheel.
“It’s obvious that is the area of town that’s developing. When you look at retail and where it will be 15 to 20 years from now, (it) is on the West End,” Scheel said.
Without naming names, Corning said he hopes to land the fourth and last anchor soon.
“We’re working on about a 40,000-square-foot development between the theater and Scheels, and I can’t say anymore,” he said.
That would leave only the parcels bordering Scheels to develop, Corning said.
The rapid infill of apartments and homes is surprising, but not the pace of commercial development, he said, adding that no one knows when Shiloh’s commercial property will all be developed.
“The difficulty of this business is predicting absorption rates. It’s not a linear process,” Corning said.
But Shiloh Crossing will set the pace of development in Billings for the next five to 10 years, he said.
“If you’re going to do any kind of retail development, especially bulkier retail like a car dealer, it’s going to be in that general area,” Corning said.
A twin subdivision across Shiloh to the west, Montana Sapphire, was platted in 2002. Two casinos and the Beartooth Bank were built around 2004.
Then development simply halted until a three-store building was constructed along King.
Six years ago, contractors started building hundreds of apartments, said Blaine Poppler, who is representing the subdivision with George Warmer, both of Coldwell Commercial Banker.
Rimrock Auto Group bought the southwest corner of King and Shiloh, opening a VW dealership in 2012 and building a GMC/Cadillac store that opens in January.
Seven lots in Sapphire have sold. That’s about half the available real estate, Poppler said. Verizon/Cellular Plus and Steak ‘n Shake built stores. And Affinity, a 154-unit living community for seniors that includes a pool, theater and pub, will open in May.
“In 10 years, I expect to see Montana Sapphire completely full and Shiloh Crossing completely full and I imagine seeing St. Vincent’s having a lot of buildings,” he said.
A view of the Rims
To the north of Sapphire, St. Vincent Healthcare Foundation just completed sewer, water, street and other improvements on about two-thirds of the farmland it bought in 2002.
The $3.8 million project includes the ninth roundabout on Shiloh Road, one that is not being used yet.
The master plan for the 115-acre parcel isn’t ready yet, said foundation president and chief executive David Irion.
In 2004, Billings Clinic purchased 80 acres at Shiloh and Broadwater Avenue. The clinic has not yet applied to the city for annexation or filed development plans, according to zoning coordinator Nicole Cromwell.
“In 10 years, Shiloh has come a long way, and in the three years since the road improvements were completed, it’s really taken off,” she said.
The Yegen family was one of the first large landowners in the Yellowstone Valley and still owns land on both sides of Shiloh between Grand and Broadwater. Their property sits right in the path of Shiloh’s northward sprawl, but Charlie Yegen said his family intends to continue farming there as long as possible, continuing a family tradition spanning three centuries.
Edward Cardwell started buying Yellowstone Valley land in 1872 and purchased the property that Shiloh Road now sits on in the spring of 1889, six months before Montana became a state.
Charlie Yegen’s other great-grandfather, Swiss emigrant Peter Yegen, started buying Billings land in the 1880s.
The West End growth of Billings will reach to Laurel in a few years, Charlie Yegen said.
“It is some of the best farm ground in the state, that’s true, but c’est la vie,” he said.
Even though feeding the world is a crucial calling, he said, raising crops and cattle just doesn’t pencil out when the land becomes so valuable.
“We’re very proud of the fact we’re hanging on, but there will come a time when we won’t have a choice,” Yegen said. “There is some of this land, depending on where it is, worth 100 years of farming alfalfa. By selling it tomorrow, you can take care of four generations.”