Buffalo Crossing funding gets initial approval

The planning board voted unanimously on Sept. 24 to recommend that the City Commission approve a $350,600 tax increment financing request for public infrastructure improvements associated with development of the Buffalo Crossing subdivision in the West Bank Urban Renewal TIF District.

Commissioners will consider the request during a regular meeting this fall.

Buffalo Crossing is the name of the 2.2 acre property that was subdivided earlier this year into six lots. Lot 1 has the barrel building on the corner of Central Avenue West and Bay Drive, across from the federal courthouse.

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The property is owned by Ken Holman and Paula Gundermann and they requested the TIF funds to begin infrastructure on Lot 1 to help spur development. The owners are in discussions with a “with a potential restaurant/bar owner who has multiple locations on the western side of the state. They are committed to repurposing and renovating the existing barrel-vault building to become ‘the place’ to drink and dine in Great Falls. We believe that they will become the anchor tenant and the driving force for the rest of the development,” according to the application.

The potential tenant has not yet been named.

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The overall Buffalo Crossing development, according to the application, will include the renovation of existing barrel-vault building on Lot 1 and multi-story buildings with commercial space on the lower levels and housing on the upper levels for the other five lots.

The TIF funds would be used for demolition of existing buildings, relocating overhead powerlines, sidewalks and landscaping on Bay Drive, trail access, a common parking lot area and engineering fees, according to the applications.

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The overall project is an estimated $18.9 million, according to the application.

If the TIF request is approved, the relocation of the overhead power lines and the demolition of the existing building will occur this year with all other public improvements taking place over the spring and summer of 2020, according to the city planning department.

Tom Micuda, deputy city planning director, said during the Sept. 24 meeting that “this is a big investment.”

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The full development of the Buffalo Crossing project would generate additional revenue for the TIF district, which could be reinvested into public infrastructure associated with existing projects or potential future development within the district.

Approving TIF funds for Buffalo Crossing “does give the project a better chance to be successful,” Micuda said.

The barrel building has been vacant for years and had been the subject of nuisance abatement action by the city in 2016. The result was some effort to secure the building and remove public safety hazards, but the proposed development “will do more than secure it, this will activate the space,” Micuda said.

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He said city staff believes if the project is successful, it will likely generate additional activity in the area and capitalizes on some of the city’s best assets — the Missouri River and the River’s Edge Trail.

The West Bank Urban Renewal TIF District was adopted by the Great Falls City Commission in 2007 and encompasses property on the west bank of the Missouri River on either side of the Central Avenue West Bridge.

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“The purpose of creating the West Bank TIF was to address blighted conditions that had diminished the environmental, economic, and cultural well-being of the West Bank area over time and foster economic development, job creation and improve the overall environmental quality,” according to city planning.

The Buffalo Crossing team talked to city staff about the possible use of TIF funds before going through the subdivision process.

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West Bank Landing is in the same TIF district and was previously approved for TIF funding.

The developer, Brad Talcott, recently submitted a request for $350,000 for reimbursement of the first two phases of improvements that have been completed.

The TIF fund currently has just over $350,000, meaning there’s not enough money to simultaneously fund both requests, but the city receives two annual payments into the TIF, one in December 2019 and other mid-year 2020.

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City staff are proposing to fund both TIF requests byt staggering the payments.

Staff’s plan, subject to commission approval, is:

  • $350,000 of immediate payment to West Bank LLC, presuming approval by the City
    Commission;
  • About $242,000 of reimbursement payment to the Buffalo Crossing applicant upon completion of Phase I improvements (powerline relocation and demolition work). The payment would occur after the city’s 2019 TIF fund payment in December;
  • About $108,600 of reimbursement payment to the Buffalo Crossing applicant upon completion of Phase II improvements (trail access, Bay Drive sidewalk/landscaping). Payment would occur after the city’s 2020 mid-year TIF fund payment.