After $6 million dollars, a summer of work and 12 blocks of road paving, the industrial area east of downtown Billings will have new streets, curbs, storm drains, sewer systems and street lights when construction there wraps up this month.
In short, it'll be ready for business.
"It's going to be transformative," said Tim Goodridge, coordinator of the East Billings Urban Renewal District, or EBURD.
The EBURD — and other designated areas like it in Billings' core downtown and on the South Side — have been set aside as tax increment finance districts. TIF districts collect taxes that are then granted to private urban renewal projects in those districts.
The hope is that the renewal projects lift property values in the district, thus generating more growth and more taxes to renew the TIF fund.
And that's the goal for the EBURD. The street and infrastructure project in east Billings will give the area new roads and sidewalks along with needed infrastructure and 212 LED streetlights.
What that really means, Goodridge said, is that the 12 blocks from North 10th to North 22nd Streets between First Avenue North and Fourth Avenue North will be enticing to new businesses looking to relocate, and safe and inviting to the customers and clients they will attract.
"It's one of the really important incremental steps," he said. "It's the fundamental task set forth in the EBURD master plan."
The projects started with TIF district funds, but in order to get everything done they wanted — drainage, curbing, street lights and landscaping — the EBURD partnered up with other groups to raise the $6 million it would take to get it all completed.
"It was too much just for the TIF district on its own," Goodridge said.
In the end, the project used bonds, public works funds and revenue from a special improvement district, something that was appealing to Goodridge because it meant a lot of different groups had "skin in the game."
With the foundation laid, the EBURD will begin looking to attract different industries to the area. Already located in the district is the First Interstate Bank Operations Center, completed in 2009, and the GSA Building for the Department of the Interior, completed in 2013.
The city's medical corridor has begun to move east. Early next year construction on a new dialysis center will begin on property just north of Sixth Avenue North near North 27th Street. It's just outside of the EBURD but it points to a trend Goodridge has seen developing during the past handful of years.
"Everything is creeping our way," he said.
To that end, the EBURD will look to target innovation and tech companies, an industry that Goodridge said makes sense for the area. East Billings has relatively easy access to two highways, the interstate, railways and the airport.
"We're situated in a really cool spot," he said.
Projects like roads and infrastructure can seem dry, Goodridge said. But they're vital to laying a foundation on which a successful business district can take root and grow.
"It's that boring foundation that sets the tone," he said.
The growth starts out slow, but once momentum builds the transformation of the area will happen quickly.
"Now it's just a matter of recruiting and enticing," he said.