Pace of construction in Billings jumped in 2013

2013-12-29T00:15:00Z 2013-12-30T07:35:07Z Pace of construction in Billings jumped in 2013By JAN FALSTAD jfalstad@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette

Records were being set in 2013 for the rapid pace of commercial construction in Billings, based on the dollars invested.

Through November, the city of Billings issued nearly $395 million in commercial and residential building permits, 64 percent higher than in 2012. The jump was due mostly to a run on construction of new apartments, hotels and motels.

The hotel building spree is likely to top the six hotels built during the last boom in 2006.

If these seven hotels, either being planned or under construction, are built, Billings will have another 500 rooms. That’s a 12 percent increase for a total of 4,600 rooms in more than 40 hotels and motels.

The projects include:

A 91-room, $10 million-plus TownePlace Suites by Marriott at 2480 Grant Road, behind Home Depot.

An 80-room, $8 million Ledgestone Hotel at 4863 King Ave. E., off South Billings Boulevard.

A 110-room, $14 million Homewood Suites on 3420 Ember Lane off of Zoo Drive.

A 105-room, $9.5 million Hilton Home2 hotel by Bozeman developer Don Cape Jr., who still is hunting for West End land.

An 85-room La Quinta Inn & Suites at 5720 S. Frontage Road near the Cracker Barrel restaurant.

An 89-room, $8.4 million, Holiday Inn Express at 3431 Ember Lane across the street from Homewood Suites.

An 80-room Trailhead Lodge, a Red Lion franchise, at 3838 Zoo Drive being built by Minnesota developer/owner Peter Stalland.

A 64-room My Place Hotel at 4770 King Ave. E., between Burger King and Cabela’s.

Despite all the hotel construction, arguably the most expensive and ambitious hotel project was the complete remake of the historic Northern Hotel in downtown Billings.

After years of planning and work, two Billings natives and brothers, Chris and Mike Nelson, re-opened the Northern in March. Four months later, the hotel was named to the National Register of Historic Places.

An adjacent $12 million Empire Parking Garage on Montana Avenue with 540 spaces will be completed in April. The city of Billings will own nearly 55 percent of the parking garage and the Northern Hotel 31 percent.

Other major construction projects include the $40 million Scheels superstore at Shiloh Crossing, which opens in September, and the $30 million Department of Interior downtown office building on Fourth Avenue North that opened last spring.

One worry is finding enough workers to run these new businesses, given Yellowstone County’s unadjusted unemployment rate fell to 3.5 percent in November, the lowest since 2007.

Construction of the new Montana Peterbilt, and Pacific the Steel & Recycling facilities, led an industrial expansion in Lockwood.

A five-year remake of West Park Promenade hit high gear in 2013 with Red Robin opening a new restaurant, and a Pure Barre exercise spa.

In 2014, Montana’s first Lucky’s Farmers Market grocery, as well as an Umi Japanese Restaurant, will open on the Grand Avenue side.

Billings Clinic is investing nearly $36 million in three major downtown campus projects, with other improvements to follow.

In early December, the St. Vincent Healthcare Foundation finished adding infrastructure improvements to most of its future campus at King Avenue West and Shiloh Road.

And several unnamed companies and individuals had a protracted online bidding battle over the James F. Battin Federal Courthouse at 316 N. 26th St.

Only the name of the winner was announced and that was Colorado Tire Corp., a Washington-based company that paid nearly $3.28 million for the asbestos-contaminated building. The Battin courthouse was replaced by a new $80 million courthouse that opened last year a block away.

A palace coup at Stillwater Mining Co., a major employer that produces palladium and platinum in the Beartooth Mountains, resulted in the ouster of the longtime chief executive and a board of directors shakeup. Former Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer now is the board chairman.

Meanwhile, immeasurable but real economic impacts continued to flow across Eastern Montana and into Billings from the unprecedented Bakken oil boom mostly in western North Dakota.

The shale oil boom has vaulted North Dakota into the No. 2 oil-producing state behind Texas.

At least three major oil producing and service companies opened regional offices in Billings.

And dozens of Red-Lodge-area residents protested after Denver-based Energy Corporation of America’s chief executive John Mork announced plans to drill up to 50 horizontal oil-and-gas wells on the east and west ends of the Beartooth Front, plus more wells into the Bighorn Basin lying mostly in Wyoming.

The next ECA horizontal well, just east of Belfry, will begin this spring. This project may include hydraulic fracking, a controversial process where water mixed with sand and some chemicals is injected at extreme pressure down into bedrock formations to break up shale rock and release oil and natural gas.

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