Fire stations, Mansfield seats, Civic Center repairs: odds and ends from recent public meetings

Jenn’s catching up on notes from public meetings over the last few weeks, so here’s some odds and ends.

Great Falls Fire Rescue

The city started on sewer repairs of the city’s aging fire stations, but issues at Station 4 are slowing that process.

During the Feb. 4 meeting, City Manager Greg Doyon told commissioners that crews were digging out sewer and drain lines and replacing them with modern materials to make sure they drain properly. In some cases, they hadn’t been draining correctly and water was pooling, creating voids under the slabs, he said.

Commission approves contract for fire station sewer repairs

Electrical conduit had also been run through the concrete slabs and hadn’t been detected earlier on, but crews discovered it had deteriorated so running new conduit is also an additional task in the project.

During the project at Station 4, black mold was also discovered behind cabinets in the kitchen, so that also has to be addressed.

City Commission to consider contract for sewer repairs are fire stations

Doyon said the city would hold off on the sewer repair work at Station 1 downtown until they get cost estimates on the additional repairs at Station 4.

He told commissioners that there has been discussion on public safety needs, but that the city needs to maintain what it has.

“We’re gonna try to take care of what we have first, before I would recommend making an ask of the community for additional funding,” for another station, Doyon said.

Mansfield Center for the Performing Arts Advisory Board

Staff at the Mansfield Center are in early discussions with staff at the Great Falls Public Library for a potential summer film festival in the city.

Staff is also in discussions regarding facility improvements.

Owen Grubenhoff, Mansfield events manager, told the board that he was asking the city managers office about adding theater improvements such as new seats to the Civic Center facade project.

That project is an estimated $5 million and has not yet received the go-ahead from commissioners. It could require a public vote for a bond.

Grubenhoff said replacing the theater seats is the main project they’re after. He said he’d meet with the contractors working on the Great Falls High theater project to get a cost estimate.

Grubenhoff said the current seats are serviceable but aren’t that comfortable. The plan would be new seats that are a bit wider and would increase space between the rows. That would cause an overall slight reduction in the number of seats, he said.

The seats were last restored in 1996, according to city documents. A 2013 proposal to commissioners to replace the seats had an estimated $800,000 price tag.

Mansfield staff have requested bids twice now for an alcohol concessionaire for their events, but have received no responses. The RFPs that were issued included the city taking a 20 percent cut of the concessionaires profits.

Board members said some ushers weren’t happy about the idea of having alcohol in the theater.

Grubenhoff said, “we’re one of the few that don’t” allow it in the state.

Tax Increment Financing Funds

City staff has mentioned the option of using some tax increment financing funds from the downtown TIF to support the Civic Center facade repair project, which is an estimated $5 million.

The Downtown Development Partnership is the body designated to review downtown TIF applications and make recommendations to the City Commission, but the commission has final approval over those funding requests.

City considering options for Civic Center façade repairs

The DDP met in mid-February and voted to ask the city not to use downtown TIF funds for the Civic Center project.

During the March 3 commission meeting, DDP members were planning to share that opposition during public comment.

During their Feb. 26 meeting, DDP members said there were other projects they were wanting to use TIF funds for, such as fire suppression and ADA accessibility for private buildings in the downtown.

Staff has indicated that using TIF funds for those types of projects isn’t impossible, but would require a substantial overhaul of the city’s current TIF program that would have to be approved by the City Commission.

The DDP will be asking the city for $12,000 in TIF funds for their operations this year. The downtown TIF has supported DDP operations and the development of a new DDP website in recent years.

TIF funds have also been earmarked for a wayfinding project.

Joan Redeen, community director for the Downtown Business Improvement District said she and Kellie Pierce of the Downtown Great Falls Association met with City Manager Greg Doyon in February about the TIF.

Redeen said she believes the DDP will be overruled by the City Commission in using the TIF funds for Civic Center repairs.

“The reality is they need that,” Redeen said.

The available TIF funds aren’t enough for the entire Civic Center repair cost but it could lessen the amount the city would need to send to a public bond. If a public bond was approved, that assessment would be spread across all property owners in the city.

Brett Doney of the Great Falls Development Authority and member of the DDP, said the city has other funding sources for the Civic Center and would prefer to keep TIF money for other downtown projects. He said the DDP had already supported $500,000 in TIF funds for stormwater management and parking garage city improvements.

TIF funds are strictly regulated by state law on how they can be used and in recent years the state legislature have taken aim at the TIF program with some lawmakers believing the funds are being misused to support private development versus public improvements.

Doney said during the Feb. 26 DDP meeting that the whole idea of the downtown TIF is to drive private development.

He said the Civic Center serves the entire region and “it’s a gem,” but would prefer the downtown TIF funds not be used for that project.