Work will begin next month on building a new first impression of Billings.
Celebrate Billings partners announced Tuesday that work will start in mid-June on a "Welcome to Billings" sign near Zoo Drive, off the Shiloh interchange.
The sign will be created out of sandstone rocks, meant to emulate the Rimrocks, and be surrounded by pines, other trees and shrubbery, said Jim Duncan, chairman of Celebrate Billings' Community Development Committee and president of the Deaconess Billings Clinic Foundation.
Three 6-feet high rocks, each with one word of the phrase "Welcome to Billings" sandblasted in it, will create the sign. The rocks, which will span about 38 feet, are meant to have a visual impact and send a message that "We're proud of our community," Duncan said.
"It makes a statement that we are welcoming visitors," Duncan said. "And we want them to know, as they are coming into the community, that this is the great place it is."
The sign will be built atop an earth berm with rock retaining walls. The vegetation has been selected because it is low-maintenance and does well in the local climate, Duncan said.
The display, which won't be visible from I-90, will be located between the interstate and Gable Road on the north side of the Zoo Drive interchange.
"It will really create an impression, right from the start, when you come off of that exit," Duncan said. "It says 'This is a beautiful city, a great place to visit, a great place to live.' And, it says that we're proud of our natural surroundings of the Rims."
The project is part of the Celebrate Billings Partners' goal to improve the Interstate 90 corridor, Duncan said, a desire that was voiced when the initiative was launched a year ago. Some progress has been made, including ongoing efforts to sustain litter control through the Adopt-a-Highway program.
Upgrading the appearance of Billings exits is next.
"A first impression driving through Billings on the interstate often can be somewhat of a negative image around the community," Duncan said. "There is a strong desire by people, enterprises and Celebrate Billings to try a new effort of enhancing the look of that entrance to Billings."
Michael Gulledge, Gazette publisher, said the Celebrate Billings partners jumped at the chance to create the welcome sign.
"This was an opportunity that we couldn't pass up: To make a nice entryway to the community," Gulledge said.
The $50,000 project will be paid for by Celebrate Billings and will completed by Land Design of Billings. The cost includes construction, sandblasting, landscaping, grading, and lighting, Duncan said. Work is expected to be completed by the end of summer.
The Brosovich family donated an easement to the city on property they are developing in the area, Broso Valley Park, Duncan said. Gene Brosovich was not available to comment Tuesday night. The subdivision will provide utilities to light the sign, Duncan said. The city will pay the electric bill, which Gulledge said should be minimal.
The City Council still must vote to maintain the sign and easement, but Gulledge said Celebrate Billings partners anticipate council approval.
Gulledge said Celebrate Billings hopes the display will encourage other people and businesses to consider improving the aesthetics at the other I-90 entrances to Billings.
Duncan agreed and encouraged people interested in joining the effort to call him at 657-4677.
"Anyone who is interested in finding out more about how they could instigate getting more of this to happen in different areas and wants to try and take the lead at other parts of town can call me," Duncan said. "And if they don't, we'll call them."
Celebrate Billings is a communitywide program aimed at helping improve the quality of life in Billings. The initiative is led by partners Montana State University - Billings, Rocky Mountain College, Deaconess Billings Clinic, St. Vincent Healthcare and The Billings Gazette.