Green space at One Big Sky

This green space is part of the proposed One Big Sky Center.

Courtesy CTA Architects Engineers

All talk was focused on the future during the Billings Chamber of Commerce annual meeting Tuesday.

Chamber leaders talked about new programs they would be rolling out in the coming months and encouraged members multiple times to vote in the city council and mayoral race in November.

"Elections have consequences," Kris Carpenter, the new chairwoman of the Chamber's executive board, said.

It was all a lead-up to Bob Dunn, president of Hammes Companies of Madison, Wisconsin, and developer of the One Big Sky Center project. Dunn closed the meeting, giving a presentation similar to the one he gave Monday night at the Billings City Council meeting detailing more of the development plans for the project. 

"It's about tomorrow," he told the packed ballroom at the Red Lion Hotel and Convention Center. "It's really a question about investing in the future."

Part of that future was represented in a small conference room away from the main event, where a group of young business professionals in their 20s and 30s asked questions of Dunn about the One Big Sky Center project. 

Most in the room — members of the Chamber's NextGEN group of up-and-coming business leaders — are eager to see the project succeed. The first question they asked Dunn was how they can better support it. 

"Get prepared for the fight," he told them. "And I don't mean that in a negative way."

Acknowledging that the project has met with some resistance in terms of public opinion, Dunn told the group that if they want to see Billings grow and develop, they would have to take the lead. 

"Your generation will define what Billings becomes," he told them. 

One of the ideas behind the One Big Sky Center, he said, is to create modern business, retail and living space in downtown Billings that will attract young talent to the city and help the city keep the young talent it already has. 

"You've got the bones of a great downtown," he said. 

Lisa Harmon, executive director of the Downtown Billings Alliance, talked about the importance of NextGEN members attending City Council meetings where they can make their voices heard and give council members another point of view as they deliberate on the decisions they make. 

She said oftentimes, the council rules by "lowest common denominator" and if a more diverse set of voices speaks up at the meetings, city council members will have more information and viewpoints on which to rely. 

"We do believe we're the only city in Montana that can do a project of this size," she said.

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Business Reporter

Business Reporter for the Billings Gazette.