Discussions on future for Expo Park improvements continuing

A number of people associated with the Montana Expo Park met Tuesday morning to identify any other issues with the draft improvement plan that should be addressed as the consultant works on the additional study for the livestock zone.

The Great Falls Tourism Business Improvement District already conducted studies determining that a multipurpose event space would be feasible in Great Falls and that the most sensible location was Expo Park.

Last year, the entity contracted with Conventions, Sports and Leisure International and Populus to study what other improvements should be made and site layouts for Expo Park.

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The tourism office presented the draft plan last fall in community meetings and the draft plan is available online.

County approves additional funds for Expo Park projects; additional facility study for potential improvements

After seeing the draft proposal, the county had some concerns about the functionality of the livestock zone in the proposed layout.

In May, the County Commission approved a $27,500 contract with CSL for an additional study on the livestock zone.

The additional study will include more “stakeholder outreach, research and analysis on alternate locations for livestock activities; development of revised site layouts, drawings, other visuals and delivery of a revised study report draft including the alternate livestock zone option,” according to the county agenda report.

Expo Park improvement project might be on November ballot

During the June 4 meeting, representatives from the county, city, horse racing, agriculture groups, engineers, the business community and others were asked to identify other known issues or concerns in that area so that they can be addressed while CSL is conducting its study.

Brian Clifton, county public works director, said something they wanted to know from the groups operating in that area was whether it would make sense to build new barns within an indoor livestock pavilion or if there were better alternatives.

County Commissioner Joe Briggs said this project would be a major investment for the county and doesn’t want to get voter approval for a bond, start construction and then realize something in the site layouts doesn’t work.

Community presentation on Expo Park improvement proposal moved to Wednesday

Commissioner Jane Weber said she had concerns about access to the fairgrounds since the draft proposal would close the 6th Street entrance, one of the major entry points.

A representative from Eagle Beverage asked about coolers and storage for concessionaires, which county staff said raised a good about considering concessions staging and future restroom locations to meet the needs of groups operating in the facility.

Sparky Kottke, president of the Great Falls Turf Club said the livestock area gets jammed during their events and rodeo. He said he didn’t see how they could get by with less barns and wasn’t sure how the livestock pavilion would fit since there’s horse trailers, recreational vehicles, cars and people camping during the major events.

Clifton said the barns are in rough shape and they’ll have to figure out how to incorporate that need into a new facility.

Jolene Schalper of the Great Falls Development Authority said they noticed that the plan didn’t address the possibility of using the area inside of the track for events.

Clifton said the railing on that track is expensive and they work to protect it.

Weber said the Rodeo Barn is a historic building and it would be nice to renovate that facility.

Asked about the future of horse racing in Montana, Kottke said there are only two Montana cities holding horse racing events this year.

He said they’re hoping to grow the sport to get other venues to open or reopen around the state.

Kottke said they’ll keep going as long as its financially viable. Last year, they went to six days of horse racing and lost money. This year, they’ve scaled back to five days, he said.

John Hayes, chairman of the Montana Board of Horse Racing, said horse racing will be viable in Great Falls as long as they can pay for it.

“We’ve turned into a real gem here,” he said of the Great Falls event.

“This little track” competes with others in the region. He said Wyoming is subsidizing horse racing with gambling money but that option hasn’t worked yet in Montana.

Hayes said they need to have more tracks around Montana so horsemen can work a circuit.

From here, the group is discussing having a booth at the fair to talk about the proposed project and gather more community feedback.

The county will complete the additional study on the livestock zone, the the lodging association will do their research on whether there is community support for a bond on the 2020 ballot.