The Board of Directors of the Great Falls Tourism Improvement District is considering its next step for the Expo Park improvement project.

The TBID Board of Directors has supported and borne most of the costs of feasibility studies, draft improvement plans and cost estimates that have been carried out in recent years. The TBID is an organization authorized by state law and is established by the city commission with members who are also appointed by the commission.

The next step in the project is securing the estimated $ 133 million for the improvements that will need to come through voter approval for a public vote.

Tension between the county and the advisory board could impact efforts on a $ 133 million improvement project at Montana Expo Park

The TBID board preferred that the county commission put the project to a vote. Another option, according to Rebecca Engum, director of Great Falls Montana Tourism, is to collect signatures on petitions to bring the project to a vote.

As a state institution that is financed by the local bed tax, the TBID board cannot support an election initiative.

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A group of locals has set up a political action committee to raise funds and advocate the project. Recently, the person who ran the PAC resigned and the group asked TBID to consider an additional $ 5,000 to run an updated cost estimate on the project before undertaking to convert $ 10,000-25,000 to ask the public about the likelihood of the electoral initiative being approved.

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During their meeting on May 20, the consensus of the TBID board was to let Engum meet with district commissioners individually to assess to what extent they support the project at this point in time and to send it to a vote.

They also discussed the PAC’s request for $ 5,000 to update the estimate.

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Peter Jennings, owner of the Celtic Cowboy / Arvon Hotel and TBID board member, said it “sounds like the time isn’t right now”.

He said it might be better to work out a plan, build a support base and try again for an electoral initiative in 2024.

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Wayne Thares, a former partner of the Celtic Cowboy, said this has been the position for the past decade and the TBID has spent significant resources without the assistance of the county commission.

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His wife, owner of the O’Haire Motor Inn / Sip ‘n Dip, Sandy Thares, said, “I just feel like we’re not going to gain ground if we don’t have public support from the county commissioners,” before a study is carried out on whether the loan would expire.

Scott Shull, owner of Days Inn, said they know the cost of building materials and labor will be higher this year due to COVID-19, and that the county has started improving facilities at Expo Park in recent years such as grandstands, paddock club and currently the stables.

The updated proposal for improvement to the Expo Park includes projects valued at $ 130 million. new event center, riding arena, cattle breeding facilities

Engum told the board that it matters which direction they want to go at this point, whether they transfer it to the county, wash their hands completely, or make one last attempt to encourage the county to move forward.

She asked the board if they wanted to bring the project into phase, for example with the livestock buildings versus the multipurpose event center.

Sandy Thares said she didn’t think citizens would approve two different bond issues.

Discussions about the future for improvements in the Expo Park will continue

Susan Shannon, Expo Park Manager, said the biggest conflict she gets on the calendar is availability for the Pacific Steel and Recycling Four Seasons Area and that many organizers have to pass because the arena is already booked.

“And they are great things that would be very useful,” said Shannon. She said she doesn’t need to pass cattle-type events.

Shull and several other TBID board members agreed that the project should be all or nothing compared to a step-by-step approach.

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