On Monday evening, Landmark President Bob Dunn, the developer who’s studying the feasibility of creating the One Big Sky District in downtown Billings, focused city council attention on a proposed multi-use convention center.
But that’s only one project anchor he and his team are evaluating, Dunn told The Gazette the next morning.
“You will soon see the magnitude of opportunity we think exists around health and wellness,” Dunn said of the other district planned for the development, which Landmark and its Billings partners are studying through the end of the year. “It’s clearly one of the catalysts for growth in the future.”
Capital investment, he said, will follow the growth of Billings’ two biggest medical centers, St. Vincent Healthcare and Billings Clinic. He said mixed-use development, including multi-generational housing, will naturally tend to cluster in the wellness district, which also benefits from the influence of Billings’ nearby four-year institutions — Rocky Mountain College and Montana State University Billings.
The wellness district could also attract startups and more traditional medical technology companies, “maybe on a modest scale,” Dunn said.
He said Landmark often invests in the projects it has researched. “We’re working through this process with the idea we want to have a long-term interest in Billings from an investment and development standpoint,” he said. “We’ve been very open about that.”
The end product the study will produce “is a document centered on strategy,” including a market study, he said.
“What hurts a lot of plans is that pretty pictures are painted, but the economic reality catches up later,” he said. “Is there a market that supports these ideas? We need a good basis of analysis to tell us there is a market to support the rent levels we need.”
He also spoke Monday with Gov. Steve Bullock about "what (the development) can do for all of Montana” by supporting rural interests, building the area’s workforce and supporting the state’s tourism industry.
“We didn’t present him a definitive plan at this point,” Dunn said, “but we explained what we’re working toward.”
Dunn said he’s been particularly struck by the “spirit” shown by the city’s economic development partners, including Big Sky Economic Development and the Billings Chamber of Commerce, including its tourism arm, Visit Billings.
“This is something we have come to value in Billings, the spirit and desire to come up with a great plan with a great vision, and then to make it happen,” he said.
Dunn said he and his team have picked up on “a spirit in the community to get something done, and that’s contagious. We believe there is a big opportunity here, something we want to be part of.”