HELENA — The non-profit Helena Regional Sports Association (HRSA) recently received $47,500 to help pay for a new sustainability study for a proposed regional indoor athletic facility.
The HRSA has been working on the idea since 2015 and in the spring they began working with the Lewis and Clark Fairgrounds as a potential location for the complex.
Advocates, like author, athlete, and HRSA board member Paul Landes say the need for such a facility is obvious.
"There are no swimming facilities here for competitive swimmers, teams are practicing now in the winter in basements of buildings. It's a lack of facilities but the fact that you would have one set of facilities here to meet all these needs just builds a vibrant community," says Landes.
The HRSA's vision does not just include competition swimming facilities, but also hard courts to support sports like basketball and pickleball, indoor turf for sports like soccer, and even an 80,000-square-foot arena for rodeo and concerts.
The facility is called the ARC.
That vision has drawn support from Lewis and Clark Fairground manager Kevin Tenney.
"I had a vision for the fairground moving forward. When Paul and Heather came to me, I saw a pretty darn good match," says Tenney
Tenney says something like the ARC could help evolve and expand the role of the fairgrounds in the community, and keep the grounds a center of community activity for years to come.
We're busy every day year-round. Our facilities are used to the max. We don't have a ton of room for growth. This gives us tons of room for growth. So it not only helps the fairgrounds, it's an attraction for Helena," says Tenney.
He explained how with something like the ARC, the fairgrounds could be a destination for state tournaments for sports like basketball and volleyball.
HRSA board member Heather Grahame sees benefits beyond just helping the physical health of the community.
"Think about what this can do. I'll say that one of the great things I think this project brings is the ability to address some of Montana's most serious issues."
Grahame cited Montana's high rates of suicide and drowning. She says the ARC can address these issues by improving the quality of life and providing a regular space for kids to learn to swim
"People go and recreate on our beautiful lakes and rivers but they don't know how to swim. We could fix that with adequate pool space," Grahame says.
To continue the discussion, this week and next the HRSA is meeting with different stakeholders who may benefit from features included in the ARC.
The new sustainability and economic studies are set to be completed in the first quarter of 2024 along with community-wide public meetings. The Helena City Commission approved $47,500 in federal American Rescue Plan (ARPA) funds for the sustainability study
The hope is that Lewis and Clark County Commissioners approve putting a funding measure on the ballot for voters.
Fairgrounds manager Kevin Tenney emphasized that right now this is just an idea and that they want to make sure any idea put before commissioners is sustainable and benefits the community as a whole.
The HRSA does not currently have an estimated cost for the ARC, but a 2017 study done by the group put the cost of this type of project between $20 million and $46 million.
To learn more about the HRSA and plans for the ARC visit the Helena Regional Sports Association website.