ExpoPark improvement supporters eye ballot initiative for funding

Posted at 2:39 PM, Jan 09, 2019
and last updated 2019-01-09 18:06:46-05

GREAT FALLS – In November, Great Falls Montana Tourism shared its initial plan for the future of the Montana ExpoPark.

The $86.1 million plan includes a new arena along with upgrades and expansions of livestock facilities. Paying for a plan like this, however, is not so simple.

“Governments don’t traditionally just go to a bank and get a loan like a private entrepreneur would or a developer would so the options are a little bit different,” said Rebecca Engum, Executive Director of Great Falls Montana Tourism.

On Monday, the Great Falls Area Lodging Association requested a $120,000 guarantee from the Great Falls Tourism Business Improvement District (TBID) for costs of a ballot initiative education campaign if they are unable to raise the money from other private partners. No decision on the guarantee was reached.

Cascade County Commissioner Joe Briggs said supporters have initially proposed an $86 million bond issue, but he also said the plan will likely need some tweaks.

“I think conservatively we’re looking at somewhere around a $90 million initiative,” said Briggs.

He added supporters favor an aggressive schedule for a ballot initiative this November, but first both sides agree more public input is needed.

“If we were to proceed with that, we would want to make sure that folks had had an opportunity to see what was going to be on the ballot and have a chance to have a good discussion about it, rather than putting something on the ballot and then having a mad dash to see if people wanted it,” explained Briggs.

This November is only scheduled to be a city election so if a county-wide initiative goes on the ballot, private stakeholders would be responsible for the bill.

Great Falls Montana Tourism said the improvement plan would attract more economic opportunity for the ExpoPark and many Great Falls businesses.

“It’s important to understand that it won’t be the Montana State Fair every weekend at Montana ExpoPark, but there are some competitive opportunities for us with these improvements to increase 20 percent to 30 percent capacity in the use,” said Engum.

Right now, any ballot initiative is still far from reality, but Great Falls Montana Tourism said anyone with questions about the plan should reach out.

The draft plan is available online here.

Reporting by Joe Huisinga for MTN News