Putting a multiplex theater in downtown Billings might be just the ticket to revitalization, a downtown group told the Billings City Council Monday night.

In an agenda-setting meeting with council members, Art Scibelli, executive director for the Downtown Billings Partnership, outlined plans to work with a development company to ultimately bring new businesses to downtown. Scibelli said his group has the $75,000 needed for a development study by New Century Entertainment, but he sought the council’s input before entering into a memo of understanding with the national firm.

The understanding would give New Century the nod to begin looking into the viability of developing a four-block area between First Avenue North and the Parmly Billings Library along North Broadway.

“It’s all in this concept of filling the niches of downtown,” Scibelli said.

At least one council member, Steve Bradley, gave the idea two thumbs up.

“Carmike … has a monopoly here. It would be nice to see some competition,” Bradley said, citing the usual situation of the most highly regarded movies not playing in Billings.

City Administrator Dennis Taylor told the council that other cities who have put a theater downtown have seen positive results.

“I will tell you that across the country, downtown revitalization areas that have been successful have added a cineplex,” Taylor said.

Scibelli said as part of his group’s agreement with New Century Entertainment, the development firm will complete reports on 15 aspects of downtown development within five months. If the downtown city partnership decides to enter into the second phase of the agreement, an additional $60,000 study will be conducted and if the study indicates economic feasibility, construction could begin. Some council members were concerned because a development plan fell through in 2000.

“What they were looking for was the up-front financial security and New Century has that,” Taylor said.

New Century Entertainment is based in California and Arizona and has completed a multiplex project in Peoria, Ariz., a rapidly growing Phoenix suburb, and has a construction company in Arizona.

Council member Michael Larson said it would be impossible to move forward with development plans without further study of the city’s downtown.

“I don’t see how we could ever go forward with any of these projects without this information,” Larson said.

Councilman Donald Jones said he had reservations about putting public money toward a development that would be in direct competition with private entities.Jacqueline Johnson can be reached at 657-1359.

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