Even in its gutted-out state, Randy Overton from Kentucky was still amazed by the amenities to be provided by the unfinished Northern Hotel in downtown Billings.
Overton and 11 other representatives from across the state and country visited this weekend to tour Billings attractions, sponsored by the Billings Chamber of Commerce Convention and Visitor's Bureau.
The group consisted of event planners and convention coordinators from Montana, Spokane, Wash., Denver, Washington D.C. and Omaha, Neb., as part of the Chamber's push attract more conventions and business meetings to the Billings area.
"This is my first trip to Montana, and the technology they are planning for this property is really surprising," Overton said.
The group spent Sunday morning touring the building. Fitted with bright pink hard hats for safety, the group took a guided tour by Mike Nelson, the hotel's owner.
Nelson shared how the two eating areas of the hotel will be named in honor of his parents, and how the hotel hopes to obtain a 4-star rating upon completion.
Even though the hotel won't be open for business for awhile, he's looking toward future business, and was happy to be part of the Chamber's tour.
"People who come and visit spend almost $500 a day in the community," Nelson said. "These people represent the chance to bring in thousands of dollars every year, so this is a big step for Billings."
The group visited as part of what Joan Kronebusch, director of the convention and visitors bureau, describes as a familiarization tour. The weekend trip was an all-expense-paid glimpse into Billings' potential.
Overton books events for the governor of Kentucky, and was particularly interested in the Northern Hotel's possible ability to stream meetings into people's hotel rooms.
"Most places don't have near the amenities," Overton said. "They also talked about planning light and sound technology where speakers wouldn't have to be hooked up to a microphone."
The hotel was only the first stop Sunday morning. The schedule for the rest of the day included a walking tour of ZooMontana, a drive-through tour of the Billings medical corridor and a tour of MetraPark.
"I think they are surprised at the level of service the community can provide," Kronebusch said.
Kronebusch said Billings has about 4,000 beds available to travelers, which means there are few events the city cannot handle. Most conventions and business meetings in the city attract groups of between 1,500 and 5,500 people.
Besides showing off the major buildings in town, Kronebusch said it was important to sell the community, too, which is why the group was given free time during lunch and dinner to explore the area on their own.
"We think it's great they have taken a weekend out of their life, from their families, to share with us," Kronebusch said. "We think it's important to sell the history of our area, and show them we can find them a venue that will fit their event."