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One Big Sky developer steps back

One Big Sky developer steps back

One Big Sky District

A concept drawing of the downtown One Big Sky District featuring an outdoor ice skating rink.

Landmark Development has quietly stepped back since the Billings City Council voted two weeks ago not to update its partnership with the Wisconsin-based developer.

"We're happy to stand by and watch at this point," Bob Dunn said on Tuesday. 

Dunn leads Landmark Development, the Billings iteration of the Hammes Co., of Madison, Wisconsin. Landmark was formed more than a year ago to produce a plan that would map out the large-scale development of downtown Billings through a project called the One Big Sky District. 

The plan was completed in January and delivered to the city. Council approved it the following month in a 7-3 vote.

"We did everything and more that we were asked to do and did it very successfully," Dunn said, referring to the council's majority vote to approve the plan.

At this point, it's time for the community to lead out on the One Big Sky District, he said. 

The City Council took the first steps Monday night to do that. The council voted unanimously to send a letter to the Legislature voicing its support for the 406 Impacts District bill, the draft legislation that would create the financial tools the city would need to kick-start One Big Sky. 

The plan lays out a framework for specific future development of downtown Billings, including projects that focus on tourism, health, business and civic engagement.

The letter was an attempt by the council to publicly shore up support for the bill. Support appeared to waver two weeks ago when council members voted 5-5 not to renew the agreement with Landmark over concerns of an added reimbursement provision for the developer.

"These things are never easy," Dunn said. "But they're critically important."

Council members wanted to make it clear they support economic development for Billings and that they believe the 406 Impacts District bill is the way to do it. 

"The City Council's support is fantastic," said Steve Arveschoug, executive director of Big Sky Economic Development and the local lead for One Big Sky.

The bill is designed to be of use to communities across the state and maps out a system for the state Department of Commerce to award grants to development projects in any of the 25 new Opportunity Zones across the state. Those zones were created last year by Gov. Steve Bullock as part of the federal Tax Cuts and Jobs Act passed by Congress.

State Sen. Roger Webb, who drafted the bill, said the tools created in his bill will likely be used by Missoula, Bozeman, Big Sky and Polson. Billings would use the bill to start development on the One Big Sky District.

The bill's passage would be necessary for One Big Sky to be developed the way it's been envisioned in the plan Landmark produced. And so Landmark will watch to see what happens in Helena during the next two months.

"We'll be eager to see what can get done," Dunn said. 

In the end, Landmark may chose to get involved in Billings projects, or it may not.

"We follow opportunities all over the country," he said. 

And, Dunn added, ultimately for One Big Sky to work it needs to attract private development from multiple groups.

Arveschoug agreed. Should the 406 Impacts District bill pass through the Legislature and become law, Arveschoug's group would reach out to multiple developers, regional and national.

"We'll call Landmark," he said. "But we'll also have conversations with other developers."


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