Lots on the drawing board for downtown’s east end


Ed Kemmick/Last Best News

After the annual meeting of the Billings Industrial Revitalization District on Wednesday, attendees checked out maps of the district and information on upcoming projects.

Plans for further improvements in the far east end of downtown Billings were detailed Wednesday at the annual meeting of the Billings Industrial Revitalization District.

Those plans include street, sidewalk and lighting upgrades in a nine-block area between north 10th and 13th streets and from First to Fourth Avenue North, with a total estimated price tag of just under $6 million.

Also discussed was the pedestrian bridge over Exposition Drive near MetraPark, which we described in an earlier story, and which could cost up to $4 million.

Those two projects would be funded with tax increment district dollars, city and county funds and possibly private investment, in the case of the bridge, and tax increment money and assessments against property owners in the case of the street improvements.

The third project described at the meeting is the planned upgrade and partial reconstruction of First Avenue North from Division Street to North Ninth Street, paid for with state and federal transportation funds.

The annual meeting in the First Interstate Bank Operations Center drew about 100 people, including all three Yellowstone County commissioners and at least two members of the Billings City Council.

The area of town in question is known as the East Billing Urban Revitalization District, or EBURD. The Billings Industrial Revitalization District, or BIRD, is the private, nonprofit organization that represents property owners within the EBURD.

D.J. Clark, a senior engineer with Sanderson Stewart, made the presentation on the Exposition Gateway Extension Pre-Design Feasibility Study. That was basically a study to determine how much it would cost to extend the improvements made in the eastern section of the district to the nine adjoining blocks to the west.

The improvements would include new curbs, gutters and sidewalks with bulbed-out intersections and ramps to make them accessible to people with disabilities, and reconstruction of the streets. There would be bike lanes on each street, as well as new ornamental lighting.

The study included the option of extending the street lights to all areas of the district, which runs roughly from North 22nd Street to MetraPark between Montana Avenue and Sixth Avenue North, but also including North Park and other properties on the north side of Sixth.

The project would cost a little under $5 million without extending the lights districtwide, and a little less than $6 million with the new lights.

Marty Connell, past president of the BIRD board, said a study of the pedestrian bridge, which would span Exposition Drive at Third Avenue North, was commissioned because “some significant players” want to develop the east end of the industrial district, but need some way for people to access MetraPark from there.

The bridge could provide the incentive for someone to build a major hotel there, he said, which would be especially important if a convention center were built in the area. If you look at all of Yellowstone County, he said, “there’s only one place for a convention center, and that’s MetraPark.”

The presentation on the reconstruction of First Avenue North was given by Kirk Spalding, an associate principal at Sanderson Stewart. He said that project would include a lot of rehabilitation and “a fair amount of reconstruction,” since some portions of the roadway are in pretty bad shape.

The project would include new curbs, gutters, sidewalks and streetlights, as well as new traffic signals at North 13th Street. The project will be studied through the summer and development alternatives will be presented next fall, he said.

Detailed design and right-of-way acquisition could start in 2019, but no date has been set for the start of the actual construction.

The annual meeting also featured a presentation on EBURD “brownfields”—properties on which development is hampered by the presence or perception of past pollution or contamination. The presentation was made by Patrick Klugman, community development project manager for Big Sky Economic Development.

Since 2014, Klugman said, a program administrated by the BSED and funded with a grant from the Environmental Protection Agency has resulted in the assessment of more than 40 parcels in the EBURD. Of those, he said, 97 percent had no issues that would preclude development, which he said was “fantastic news” for the EBURD.

The BSED has already applied for another $300,000 grant from the EPA to continue those assessments, he said.

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