In a word, Billings has potential.
Leaders with the One Big Sky District project presented their study Monday night at the Billings City Council meeting, emphasizing the nearly untapped potential Billings has for robust economic growth and development.
"We see opportunity," Landmark President Bob Dunn told council members.
Dunn is the developer overseeing the study examining the feasibility of creating the One Big Sky District in downtown Billings. The presentation came on a busy night, three hours into Monday night's council meeting.
The study sets out to answer the question of where Billings is today and where it might go in the future in terms of economic growth.
"If you're going to attract tomorrow's workforce (then) Billings has to change," Dunn told council members.
The first part of the study identifies the city's need for a large-scale, multi-event convention center. The venue would not only be used for conventions but also opened up to events like festivals, concerts and seasonal activities.
Dunn told the council it would have to be competitive on a regional scale. Montana sees 12 million tourists a year and yet has no regionally competitive convention center, Dunn said, describing it as a surprising statistic.
In order to support a large-scale convention center, the city would need to transform its downtown by creating a significant amount of more residential space and bolstering the type of industries that draw people downtown.
To that end, the plan calls for the creation of four anchoring districts downtown, where economic development would focus on industries like entertainment and lifestyle, civic, wellness and education. The four anchors build on Billings' medical corridor and entertainment offerings.
Overall, the plan "targets $2 billion of private capital investment centered on catalytic, civic anchors," Dunn said.
The project has the support of downtown institutions like Billings Clinic and St. Vincent Healthcare, the Billings Family YMCA, Billings Chamber of Commerce and the Northern Hotel.
Beginning Jan. 4, the downtown partners will present the plan and answer questions at a series of meetings for the public.