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Shawn Warner and his Sletten Construction colleagues have had to battle the elements to construct the 540-slot Empire Parking Garage in downtown Billings, set to open July 1.

Every time it snowed last winter — and it snowed a lot, setting the record in Billings with 100 inches — workers with the Great Falls-based company had to clear more than 100,000 square feet of parking space.

“We fought like crazy with the snow and the cold,” said Warner, a company vice president and the project manager. “Those aren’t good conditions for pouring concrete.”

In that weather, it can be a challenge just building a structure as open as a parking garage.

“There were days when they had to be more occupied with clearing snow than building our parking garage,” said Bruce McCandless, Billings assistant city administrator. “I felt like they did a great job through trying conditions.”

For his part, Warner called the city “a terrific client. They couldn’t have treated us any better.”

The result of all that brutal weather has been a delay in the opening — by about three months — of the six-story parking and retail structure on Montana Avenue between Broadway and North 27th Street.

After opening, it will take another three weeks for about 65 construction workers, along with a horde of local subcontractors, to put the finishing touches on the $11.5 million parking, shopping and dining structure.

The addition of the Empire garage brings to four the number of downtown public parking garages in Billings, although some of the spaces in the Empire have been spoken for by private interests, while other spaces will be available for lease. The Northern Hotel has claimed 187 parking spaces. 

During a tour of the structure Thursday, Warner noted the parking garage will have two towers, with an elevator in each one. The company constructed a bridge to connect the garage’s second story with the Northern Hotel.

He said he expects the structure to last more than 50 years, unless the area around Montana Avenue develops sufficiently to tear it down before then.

McCandless said this is the first time the city has built a parking structure with multiple uses, giving people a reason to park by offering them opportunities to shop or dine inside. Exactly how the retail space will be used — restaurants, retail, office space or something else — largely remains to be determined. Businesses including a title company and restaurants hold options on the retail space within the Empire garage.

“The city isn’t profit-oriented, but we are doing this for people to lease spaces and purchase retail area,” he said.

The idea is to redevelop and revitalize the area around Montana Avenue. He said the “outstanding feature” of the Tax Increment Financing funds used to finance the project “is that public investment can really stimulate private investment.”

Including property acquisition, site development and utility work, the garage represents a $16 million public investment downtown. The 540 spaces in the Empire garage brings the capacity of the city’s four downtown parking structures to more than 2,100 parking spaces.

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City Government Reporter

City reporter for The Billings Gazette.