Though the global pandemic has led to an economic downturn, there was reason for optimism at Tuesday night’s Great Falls City Commission meeting.
The commissioners unanimously approved tax abatements for three projects, developed by two Great Falls groups in various stages of development.
“I really believe in tax abatements, it’s an investment in Great Falls’ growth,” said commissioner Owen Robinson. “And I think we’re sending the message that the city will participate with growth. Even during times like this.”
A tax abatement is a financial incentive that eliminates or significantly reduces the amount of taxes that an owner pays on a piece of residential or commercial property. In the case of the three Great Falls projects, the developers would agree to pay the tax rate based on the current value of the property. The rate would increase incrementally over the next five years, before returning to 100% of the taxable value in the fifth year after completion of construction.
MILWAUKEE STATION DEPOT
Great Falls based Big Sky Select Properties is planning to expand the Milwaukee Depot Station by connecting the depot to a new apartment building that would include 83 market-rate apartments along with a wine bar, food court with 4-5 restaurants, and a possible Cross Fit-like gym. The estimated cost of the project is $16.4 million. Construction is expected to begin in September of 2020 and be completed by September of 2021 according to application documents. According to city staff calculations, the estimated loss of tax revenue to the city over the period of the abatement is $459,690.
Big Sky Select Properties is also remodeling the 2nd and 3rd floors at 412 Central Avenue (above Mighty Mo Brewery) which historically held the Northern Hotel. The rooms were previously gutted, but the historic main stair and corridors are largely still intact. The remodel will convert the old hotel rooms into 18 market rate one and two bedroom apartments, the “Northern Lofts." The estimated cost of the project is $1.8 million. Construction began in February and was expected to be completed by the end of the year according to application documents. According to city staff calculations, the estimated loss of tax revenue to the city over the period of the abatement is $50,450.
THE NEWBERRY THEATRE PROJECT
STSA Partners, LLC are in the planning stages of remodeling 420 Central Avenue as a theater and event space next door to Central Avenue Meats. The current plans for the space include a large stage, green rooms, restrooms, a lounge and bar area, and a mezzanine area. The venue will have the capacity to accommodate approximately 700 people. The goal is to create a downtown event venue modeled after two other venues in other Montana towns: The Wilma in Missoula and the Pub Station in Billings. The estimated cost of the project is $1.2 million. Construction began in April and was expected to be completed by the end of the year per information in the application documents. According to city staff calculations, the estimated loss of tax revenue to the city over the period of the abatement is $28 thousand dollars. The city staff report reads: “This event space will encourage ‘spin-off’ development throughout the central business core and periphery area,The substantial investment in the property should send a positive message to nearby property and business owners and trigger further development along Central Avenue and the surrounding areas.”
All of these projects are in various stages of planning, with plenty of hurdles to clear. But the first one is out of the way with city support, and according to Brett Doney of the Downtown Development Authority who spoke in favor of all three projects during the commission meeting, that bodes well for the future of Great Falls development.
“We've been working on downtown revitalization for a number of years now. And these three projects are really the fruition of years of effort to attract high quality private investment,” Doney told MTN. “These projects are very important for the future of downtown, but they also demonstrate private investor confidence in the future of Great Falls and the entire economy of the Golden Triangle.”