Billings Senior's Kyler Gappa and Hung Hunyh of Billings West compete in the 200 yard individual medley during the Billings Public Schools swim meet at Rocky Mountain College in January. A consultant is studying which sports facilities are needed in Yellowstone County and how they might be funded.
A study designed to identify the sports facilities that can enhance amateur participation and attract regional and national tournaments should be ready by this February.
While an aquatics center is the dream of several people who attended Wednesday’s kickoff meeting for the Yellowstone County sports feasibility study, the consultant selected to conduct the study will explore possible facilities for a number of other sports as well, including track and field, hockey, ice skating and others.
Public skating at the Metra, December 1975
Outdoor ice rink construction, November 1975
Billings Blazers home opener vs. Albuquerque Chaparrals, Dec. 17, 1975
West High Wranglers hockey team, February 1976
Billings Blazers vs. Albuquerque Chaparrals, 1976
Sandy Bain, Billings Blazers, February 1976
Billings Blazers vs. Butte Copper Kings, April 5, 1976
Youth hockey at Volunteer Ice Arena, January 1977
Hockey equipment for sale at Sears, November 1977
Billings Bighorns vs. Medicine Hat Tigers, January 1978
Billings Bighorns goalie Tim Thomlinson, March 1978
Billings Bighorns locker room, 1978
Billings Bighorns vs. Lethbridge Broncos, January 1978
Billings Bighorns players in Cooperall uniforms, January 1981
Billings Bighorns vs. Lethbridge Broncos, March 1978
Andy Moog with Billings schoolchildren, 1983
Montana Magic players, September 1983
Reggie Leach in Montana Magic uniform, 1983
Montana Magic vs. Salt Lake Golden Eagles, March 11, 1984
Centennial Ice Arena construction, October 1982
Pee Wee hockey at Centennial Ice Arena, April 1984
Billings Marlboros vs. Troy Sabres, December 1985
Billings Bulls tryouts, September 1993
Billings Bulls vs. Casper Drillers, September 16, 1993
Billings Bulls vs. Spokane
Billings Bulls former co-owner Al Bloomer, January 2005
Billings Bulls vs. Helena Bighorns, November 2007
Billings Junior Bulls U8 team
Billings Junior Bulls U8 hockey
What’s important, said Victus Advisors of Park City, Utah, managing partner Brian Connolly, is to invest in “what matters to your community.”
“The sports that are successful are the ones that the community cares about the most,” he told a steering committee of about a dozen people meeting at Big Sky Economic Development. “When they build a facility, that facility attracts others and keeps your people home.”
Sports backers throughout Yellowstone County should “connect the outside interest with what your community cares about,” he said. “The last thing you want to do is build a massive facility that is empty four days a week.”
A number of groups, including Beartooth Resource Conservation and Development, Big Sky Economic Development, Visit Billings, the South Billings Urban Renewal Association and the Laurel Aquatic Recreation Complex are working together to study the need and pool their resources. Victus Advisors has provided similar studies to communities across the country, including Cumberland County, Pennsylvania; Fort Wayne, Indiana; and Columbia, Missouri.
Next month, the consultants will return to interview sports leader focus groups and other stakeholders. Before Christmas, they’ll deliver an interim report and facility recommendations.
The consultant's work will include creating, conducting and analyzing an online survey and holding an array of necessary discussions, including with organizations that did not choose Yellowstone County to hold their tournament in an effort to find out why. They also want to hear from organizers of large-scale competitions, such as the NAIA Division I women’s basketball tournament, to find out what local officials did right.
The consultants strive not to get involved in local politics, Connolly said.
“We do the research and try to let people know what can be funded, but we put politics aside,” he said. “This is what the objective data says.”
The study can then be used as a tool with political bodies and funding organizations.
“You will have to think about what mix of public and private options will work here,” he said.
Ron Spence, general manager of the Red Lion Hotel and Convention Center and a board member for the Tourism Business Improvement District, said people in town to attend a sports tournament or other sporting event already make up a large percentage of guests at his hotel.
“We feel there is definitely a need for a larger complex to host regional and national events,” he told the steering committee. “The NAIA tournament has already proved that Billings can do that.”
Any new facility, he added, “would also give our kids a quality place to play.”
Laurel is also looking to participate in facilities development, said Ken Gomer with the Laurel Aquatic Recreation Complex, which hopes to construct a pool, gym and perhaps a community center.
“The one venue we have is Riverside Park,” but the community lacks a facility for a crowd of 250 or more, he said.
Karen Sanford Gall, executive director of Big Sky State Games, said that each year her organization, which holds competitions in 37 sports, “falls short on some venues, especially swimming” as well as ice sports and track and field. The lack of facilities also prevents her organization from bidding for the national games, she said.
Calley Thompson of the Billings Aquatic Club said local swimmers journey about four times each year to aquatic centers in Gillette and Powell, Wyoming, for their long-course and short-course meets. Montana is home to about 1,250 competitive swimmers, she said.
The pool at Rocky Mountain College is the only Yellowstone County facility where competitive meets can be held.
Besides ease of travel, a new Yellowstone County aquatic facility would cut the cost of families who pay for their children to swim competitively, she said.
“There are a lot of people in Yellowstone County with a lot of ideas about what an aquatic facility should look like, who will fund it and who will use it,” said Steve Zeier, South Billings Urban Renewal District administrator. “I hope this study gives us a better idea of what is needed.”
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