By Tim Leeds
A group that wants to build a multipurpose complex to lure large events to Havre said it expects some action soon.
"Now is kind of decision-making time in Congress," said Paul Tuss, executive director of Bear Paw Development Corp.
The decision would be whether to appropriate $1 million to study building a complex in Havre that could house sporting events, conventions and cultural activities. Tuss said he expects a decision before Congress adjourns next month.
The complex could be a major economic boost in the area and has broad support, Tuss said. Organizers of many events pass Havre by because it doesn't have a place to host them, he said.
Havre Area Chamber of Commerce executive director Debbie Vandeberg said the community can't pursue hosting a great number of conventions and events simply because of their size.
"We just don't have facilities to host them now," she said.
But many people running athletic and cultural events and conventions would like to come to Havre if they could, said Alex Capdeville, chancellor of Montana State University-Northern.
"People are looking to us. They know we have great folks to run things," he said.
Some events Havre does host are held elsewhere like last year's Class A boys' basketball divisional tournament hosted by Havre in Great Falls, and the NAIA national wrestling tournament hosted by Northern in Great Falls.
Having another venue for cultural activities has generated interest in the center, Vandeberg said. The Havre Community Concert Association, Northern Showcase and Montana Actors' Theatre have all said they support the effort.
Tiffany Korb said the center could host cultural events, like theater and concerts, that people now have to go to Great Falls, Missoula or Billings to see.
"As a parent it excites me," she said.
The activities also would stimulate the economy, Vandeberg said.
Korb, who manages the Holiday Village Shopping Center, said it would not only bring more people to shop and stay in Havre, it also would create a draw for new businesses. Companies would be more likely to look at coming to the Holiday Village if the center was built, she said.
That has already started happening, Vandeberg said. After the Havre Daily News published a story about the appropriations request for the study, two companies contacted the Chamber to start discussions about opening motels in the city. One specifically asked about the center, saying if it were built the company would be more likely to come here, she said.
The Chamber began looking into building such a center after a board retreat in February 2001, D.J. Baker said. The Chamber created a committee, consisting of Baker, Craig Tilleman, Brent Reber and Rick Sedahl, to explore it.
After initial discussions, including talks with the City/County Planning Board, MSU-Northern Foundation executive director Tom Reynolds, Capdeville and Havre Public Schools Superintendent Kirk Miller, the committee commissioned a study conducted as a senior project by Northern students. The study examined multi-use facilities, their uses and the cost of such facilities.
The next step taken by the committee was to tell the members of Montana's congressional delegation that Havre wants money to do a feasibility study. The request for $1 million was hand-delivered by Hill County Commissioner Kathy Bessette March 1 to Montana Sens. Max Baucus and Conrad Burns and Rep. Denny Rehberg in Washington, D.C., when she was in the capital to attend another meeting.
The feasibility study would answer many questions, Tuss said, including how large a complex would be appropriate, what kinds of events it could support, the costs to build and manage it, and the best location. The next step would be raising money to complete the design and build it, he said, which would require efforts from the community.
Erik Iverson, Rehberg's chief of staff, said today that Rehberg put a request for the money into the appropriations request for the Veterans Administration and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The bill is stalled in committee while the House considers other issues.
President Bush's request for a resolution on Iraq and consideration of the homeland security bill have put the VA-HUD appropriations debate on hold, Iverson said. There also is disagreement on the appropriations bill for Labor, Health and Human Services, and that has to be resolved before action will be taken on the VA-HUD bill, he said.
Rehberg is still working on getting the money for the feasibility study, he said.
"We're pushing for it. We have been since last spring," Iverson said. "It would be a big boost for the economy of Havre and the surrounding area."
Montana's senators have also been working to get the money for the study, Tuss said.
"We asked all three (members of the delegation) for support. We certainly have gotten it," he said.
The support in the community is also widespread. The Hill County Commission, the City/County Planning Board, Tuss, Capdeville and Miller all sent letters with the appropriations request. Havre Mayor Bob Rice has been involved in the effort.
The local state legislators have also shown support, Vandeberg said.
The board of Bear Paw Development voted unanimously to support the project, Tuss said. The board felt the center would benefit the entire area Bear Paw Development covers, from Malta to Whitlash to Fort Benton, he said.
Rick Morris, the mayor of Fort Benton, has spoken in support of the project for the same reason, Vandeberg said.
"I think that speaks greatly for the validity of the project," she said. "They see it not just as a project for Havre but a project for the entire area."