Council hears plans for parking garage, convention center

2010-09-20T21:16:00Z 2010-09-21T07:56:55Z Council hears plans for parking garage, convention centerMATT HAGENGRUBER Of The Gazette Staff The Billings Gazette
September 20, 2010 9:16 pm  • 

The City Council heard plans Monday night for a new seven-story, $20 million parking garage in downtown Billings.

The 705-car parking garage would be paid for using downtown tax increment financing dollars, but backers are hoping the project could be expanded to include a private, $17 million convention center that would link the Crowne Plaza and the Northern Hotel.

Greg Krueger, head of the Downtown Billings Partnership, explained the plans to an enthusiastic council and said he would be back near the end of the year to get approval to sell bonds for the project. The bonds would pay for the garage’s construction and would be paid back over several decades using TIF proceeds.

The garage would be built on the north side of Montana Avenue between North 27th and North 28th Streets. It would replace the 189-stall parking garage that is now attached to the Northern Hotel, which is undergoing a total renovation. The parking garage would eat up the site of the former Empire Bar, as well as several other buildings near North 27th Street behind Walker’s Grill.

Krueger brought architects with him from Collaborative Design, the Billings company that created three dimensional drawings of the proposed garage as well as the convention center.

The city-owned garage comes with some specific plans and a timeline, while the privately owned convention center is more vague and could be moved around.

In the current plan, the city would build the garage, and the Crowne Plaza would build the four-story convention center on its parking lot across North 27th Street at a cost of about $17 million. The garage and the convention center would be linked by a wide, third-floor sky bridge.

The convention center would feature a large ballroom on the third floor that could hold an event for 1,500 people.

The garage would have shops and restaurants on the first floor, with parking stalls from the second to seventh floors.

Jeff Kanning, president of Collaborative Design, said the Crowne Plaza has shown some interest in the convention center, but significant negotiations are needed to solidify the big hotel’s involvement.

“It’s an ongoing work with them,” Kanning said of the Crowne Plaza. “We’re still talking with them, and they’re still players in this.”

Krueger and others said that the goal of the project is to provide much-needed parking in that part of downtown, as well as to create a linked convention corridor that spreads business among the Crowne Plaza, the Northern and other downtown businesses.

Krueger said that projected downtown tax increment funds would be enough to pay for the parking garage, but that a big player like the Crowne Plaza would have to fund the convention center. Krueger said the garage should be built even if plans for the convention center fall through.

Mike Nelson, who is renovating the Northern Hotel with his brother Chris, told the council that building the convention center would create demand for another 600 to 800 hotel rooms in the area, something that would help his hotel get off the ground.

“A lot of this depends on the Crowne Plaza realizing that this is probably the best investment they can make in their hotel … and mine,” Nelson said to some chuckles.

Building the garage would cost about $17 million, with another $3 million to $4 million to buy the needed land. If everything works out, construction on the garage could start next summer and be finished in late-2012.

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