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One Big Sky Center

The One Big Sky Center concept calls for two potential development districts: A civic lifestyle district, anchored by an entertainment and conference center, and a health and wellness district, using the downtown hospitals as “anchoring elements” to attract urban residential construction, year-round public spaces, and biotech and academic collaboration space, which could include research, incubator and accelerator programs.

Hammes Company

The Billings City Council voted 10-0 Monday to extend through Feb. 12, 2018, the city’s memorandum of understanding with the company currently researching One Big Sky Center’s viability.

Councilman Brent Cromley was not present.

Acting City Administrator Bruce McCandless told the council that Hammes Company of Madison, Wisconsin, which presented its project research to the council on Dec. 4, is working on a term sheet “to tell us what Hammes believes will be necessary to get to a development agreement.”

Had the council not acted, the existing agreement would have expired Monday, McCandless explained.

In response to a question from Councilman Chris Friedel, McCandless said extending the agreement carries no financial obligation on the city’s part.

A development agreement, which will spell out how much public support the project will require, probably won’t be ready by Feb. 12, McCandless said, “but a pathway to that will be better defined for us.”

Drawing protest

Residents near the proposed new location for The Den casino and lounge, near the intersection of Grand Avenue and 54th Street West, packed council chamber seats to urge the council to reconsider its Nov. 27 approval of special review to let The Den move to the West End site from its current location in West Park Promenade.

They told the council they believed the city already has too many casinos, that this location poses potential safety problems, it’s too close to Ben Steele Middle School and that it could drag down neighborhood property values.

Tiffany Wardell said she has a petition signed by 150 people opposed to the move, with an additional 130 people signing an online petition.

She said The Den’s new location “will open the door to more casinos and deter people from moving to Billings.”

“I come to you with a heavy heart and very tired feet after visiting the neighbors around where the casino will be located,” said Susan Smith, who helped gather the petition that Wardell delivered.

“I can’t fathom,” said Jessica Yates, “why we would put something like this near a facility that houses 750 children every day.”

Dr. Bill Phillips, who practices family medicine in Billings, said he has a brother with a gambling addiction, “and it would not help him to see the flashing lights (of the casino) on the way home.”

While proponents of the move called the new location a needed service because it’s designed to attract other businesses as part of the development, Phillips labeled it “an unneeded disservice,” adding it would contribute to driving up crime, divorce and homelessness.

Terra Pierce, who’s developing the property and whose family owns The Den, said she and her husband “also live in the neighborhood, and we want to be a good neighbor.” As applicants, they’ve “met all conditions” set by the city, she said.

Some of the concerns stated by the neighbors, she said, are problems “that stem from other things going on in the community that we all need to address.”

The council declined Monday to take action on reconsidering its previous approval.

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City Government Reporter

City reporter for The Billings Gazette.