City restricting to access to Civic Center as front panels cracking, buckling

The city manager has restricted access to the front entrance of the Civic Center due to public safety concerns.

A piece of the back panel recently became dislodged, triggering the evaluation of other areas around the Civic Center, including “substantial cracking and buckling of the front panels,” according to the city.

City planning to use downtown TIF funds for Civic Center repair to avoid asking public for additional tax revenue

As a precaution, the city is installing barricades to protect the public from falling debris.

“The safety zone in front of the Civic Center will restrict access to the entrance and stairs. The adjacent sidewalk will remain open to foot traffic,” according to the city.

Since no major events are scheduled in the building, closing the front doors doesn’t violate the city’s fire code safety requirements.

City applies for $500K grant toward Civic Center repair project

For years, City Manager Greg Doyon has been talking about the need to repair the Civic Center and his concerns for public safety should the facade fail.

During the June 16 City Commission work session, City Planning Director Craig Raymond said if those panels start to fall off, “that’s a very bad day for the city.”

During that meeting, Raymond and Doyon again walked the commission through the engineering report on the Civic Center and estimated $5.5 million project that would include replacing the roof, which has been an issue for the building for years, and replacing the facade panels that have been failing, creating a potential safety hazard as they continue to deteriorate.

City considering options for Civic Center façade repairs

Initially, city officials said they would likely need to send the project to a public vote for a bond, but have since proposed to use funds from the Downtown Tax Increment Financing District to back a revenue bond and pay the debt service.

Some members of the downtown community have been vocal in their opposition to using TIF money for the project since they want to use it to support private development coming in the downtown.

City manager recommending budget with no tax increases; limited funds

So far, only one of those downtown developers has submitted an application for $84,065 in downtown TIF funds for fire suppression and sidewalk repair associated with the renovations at 311 Central Ave.

Using TIF funds means there won’t be an additional tax for property owners citywide.

On a $5.5 million revenue bond, city staff estimates the annual debt service would be about $400,000 and said that leaves roughly $900,000 and flexibility for others in the downtown who want to request the use of those funds.

[READ: Montana law regarding what TIF funds can be used for]

During the June 16 commission work session, commissioners told staff to pursue a plan for using TIF funds for the Civic Center repair project and that will likely be on a future meeting agenda.