Bozeman Area Chamber of Commerce questions downtown arts center

The Bozeman Area Chamber of Commerce won’t support the Arts at City Center project if it means higher taxes or if anyone outside the downtown area must pay for it, the organization said in a letter to the city.

By WALT WILLIAMS, Bozeman Chronicle Staff Writer

The chamber also has several concerns about the AACC, including the price of a proposed parking garage that seems much higher than what other communities have paid.

"Let’s make sure we’re really getting the best deal we can on a parking garage," Chamber President David Smith said Wednesday.

The AACC is a massive development project that includes a performing arts center and new City Hall for downtown Bozeman.

The chamber supports the concept, but not using taxpayer money to finance it, at least not at this time, it said in a letter submitted to the City Commission last week.

"We’ve been writing a lot of checks in this community," Smith said.

City voters approved a $4 million bond issue paying for a new library in 2001, and they’ve been asked to pay for a new county jail and for renovations to Bozeman High School.

The AACC will be built in phases and its funding will come from various sources. The first phase is multi-story parking garage at the corner of Mendenhall Street and North Black Avenue.

One early projection places the garage’s cost at $7.3 million. Around $500,000 will be generated through the sale of adjacent retail space, leaving $6.8 million the city needs to come up with.

Dick Clotfelter, the retired developer who dreamed up the AACC, said the garage will contain 283 parking spaces.

That comes to $23,776 per space, the chamber estimated.

Other communities typically pay an average of $10,000 to $15,000 per space, said Anne Guest, director of the Missoula Parking Commission.

Last year, Missoula opened a 151-space downtown garage costing the city $15,000 per space, once donated land was included in the final figure.

Also, Helena recently built a 420-space garage for around $10,000 per space.

Not every garage is the same, and Missoula’s garage didn’t include internal ramps, which drive up costs, Guest said.

Still, $10,000 to $15,000 is the national figure, she said.

Clotfelter said he aimed high when coming up with the figure. The garage is still in the public design process and he believes he can slash its price.

"I’m hopeful we are going to be in the mid-to-lower scale when we’re done, but we haven’t designed it yet," he said.

Paul Reichert, executive director of the Downtown Bozeman Partnership, served on the Helena parking commission when that city built its garage. He said the national figures only consider construction costs, not land and design.

"It can go a little lower, it can go a little higher," he said. "It just really depends on the site."

Guest said the figures do include property costs.

The city is still debating how it will pay for the garage. One source of money is $3.1 million in tax increment finance money that some businesses pay for downtown improvements.

Garage supporters plan for TIF revenue to grow to cover the remaining $3.7 million.

Failing that, another option is a revenue bond, which would generate the money through a combination of higher taxes for downtown property owners and general fund revenues.

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