Even before its official grand opening ceremony started Saturday afternoon, the newly rebuilt gazebo at South Park showed its value, providing dozens of people with quick shelter from a spring rain.
Shielded from the steady drizzle, more than 70 people gathered underneath the gazebo's roof to celebrate its return to the park after two years of planning and building.
"I think it's a message from the big guy up there," said Mike Yakawich, chairman of the South Side Neighborhood Task Force, which helped plan and raise money for the gazebo. "He wanted to tell us that this is the perfect thing to have in the park and this is the perfect day for it."
Adding to the celebration, the opening fell on what Yakawich believes is within a week of South Park's 100th birthday.
"This is a birthday gift to South Park," he said.
Built in the middle of South Park, the gazebo can hold as many as 200 people. City officials tore down the old gazebo in the same spot several years ago after if failed to meet safety standards after decades of wear and tear.
In 2011, the Billings City Council approved $180,000 for the gazebo and the South Side task force raised another $36,000 for extra amenities, including power hookups, landscaping and planting materials.
"It was very collaborative, a partnership between the council and the task force," said Mike Whitaker, director of Billings Parks, Recreation and Public Lands. "What really made it nice is that we were able to make a wish list and told the task force, 'If you can raise the funds, we can do it,' and they'd go get the funds."
After performances from the Senior High Drum Corps and the Big Sky Chorus, local and state officials told the gathered crowd that the old gazebo was an iconic part of South Billings before holding a ribbon-cutting ceremony.
City Councilman Jim Ronquillo, who represents the South Side, spent the afternoon manning a barbecue for guests. He shared memories of coming to the gazebo from church while growing up and spending time there with friends and family through much of his life.
He hoped the new gazebo will provide the same thing for future generations.
"This is a beautiful thing for us here today," he said.
U.S. Sen. Max Baucus commended the cooperation between the community and the city government in building the gazebo.
"Nothing of consequence is ever accomplished unless people work together," he said. "Nothing can be done alone."
The gazebo's planning calls for a multi-use facility and Yakawich said that could include concerts, weddings, family gatherings and parties.
Rev. Matt Lundgren, director of the Friendship House in Billings, said kids have been using the gazebo in the summertime for nearly 60 years and, now, that'll happen again.
"Because of this, 80 kids from the Friendship House will have a place to hang out and eat lunch in the shade during summer," he said.
Construction on the gazebo, designed by HGFA Architects and built by Fisher Construction, Inc., wrapped up late last year and crews finished the landscaping this spring.
"This is a shining example of community coming together, of businesses coming together, of local government coming together," Yakawich said.