Updated improvement proposal for Expo Park includes $130 million in projects; new event center, equestrian arena, livestock facilities
The full slate of proposed improvements at Montana Expo Park includes a new multipurpose event center with seating capacity for up to about 10,000; livestock facility relocation and upgrades including a new covered equestrian arena; improvements to the Pacific Steel and Recycling Area; renovations and additions to the RV area and site/roadway improvements.
The price tag for the all of the proposed improvements is $130 million.
Right now, it’s still just a proposal based on years of research and community outreach.
Implementing any of the improvements at Expo Park will require approval from the County Commission and would likely need a bond approved by voters in a countywide election to get the funding.
Tourism has contracted with a company that is currently researching public sentiment to determine where putting the Expo Park bond on the ballot for a public vote would be successful.
Rebecca Engum, head of Great Falls Montana Tourism, said they’re expecting a report from the consultant this spring and based on that information will determine their next steps.
If tourism determines to move forward with pursuing the bond, they’d have to ask the County Commission to approve a resolution to put the measure on the ballot. The deadline for passing that resolution is August, according to commissioners.
During a Feb. 20 presentation of the proposed improvements and concept renderings, Bill Krueger of Conventions, Sports and Leisure International said the $130 million estimate is a big number, but that their proposed strategy is “appropriate and pragmatic” to keep Expo Park as a productive asset for the foreseeable future.
CSL was hired by Great Falls Montana Tourism to conduct studies related to Expo park.
“The price of doing nothing is not zero,” Krueger said. “You can’t really do nothing.”
Without improvements, the county would still have do maintenance and repairs that the consultants estimate would total $7.5 million over 15 years.
When people are thinking of investing in Great Falls, relocating or staying, a venue like Expo Park is one of the tools in the toolbox, Kruger said.
“There’s lots of different reasons why communities invest in this,” he said.
If nothing is done to improve the facilities, there would be an estimate of 196 events, 469 event days and 616 utilization days.
With the proposed master plan and improvements, there would be an estimated 294 events, 651 event days and 862 utilization days.
Currently, Expo Park drives 13,132 hotel nights, $10.4 million in direct spending and $14.5 million in total economic impact annually, according to data from Kruger’s team.
Under the master plan, the consultants estimate Expo Park would drive 22,420 hotel nights, $17 million in direct spending and $23.6 million in total economic impact annually.
Currently, a number of people leave Great Falls to go to concerts and events elsewhere, which is lost economic impact for events that could be held in Great Falls, Krueger said.
Without improvements, the facility will be less and less effective at attracting and maintaining the facility.
Attendance has been dropping at Expo Park in recent years.
According to county figures, attendance in fiscal year 2015 was 177,205. By fiscal year 2017, it was 117, 783.
“If nothing is done…you would kind of expect to see similar deterioration year after year,” Krueger said.
He said that the consulting team talked to major event planners like Live Nation, which gave specifications on the types of things they need in facilities and told the consultants that if Expo Park had those things, it could get more events.
Engum, of Great Falls Montana Tourism, said having an improved Expo Park with more events could bring more people to the community, but also improve the quality of life offering more opportunity to residents.
“We’re now at the point that we can’t any more done in here,” Engum said of the current facilities.
The effort to improve Expo Park has been in the works for a decade and included a 2011 initial master plan; a 2014 event center feasibility study with CSL; a 2017 improvement strategy study and a 2019 plan update.