City Commission to consider $8 million in TIF funds for Civic Center repairs
City staff’s request to use tax increment financing funds for the Civic Center façade repair project goes before the City Commission on Dec. 1 for a public hearing.
The city is requesting to use the downtown TIF funds for the project that’s an estimated $5.5 construction cost and the Downtown Development Partnership voted in October to recommend approval of the use of the funds.
With contingency, underwriting costs and interest paid over time, staff estimated the total cost will be about $8.8 million.
In early 2020, City Commissioners directed staff to explore the possible use of TIF funds to be used as a guarantee in a bond sale to fund the Civic Center repairs. That’s what the city is intending to do and use the TIF funds to pay the annual debt serve payments, an estimated $441,490.50.
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The exact dollar figures will depend on the actual interest rates at the time of the bond sale. City staff are estimating a 4 percent interest rate.
The downtown TIF is generating an estimated $1.2 million annually, according to city finance staff, and the remaining funds will be available for other eligible projects.
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Bonding against the district will also extend the Downtown Urban Renewal TIF District, depending on the term of the bonds, likely for another 20 years, according to the city finance office.
The city can’t bond till January, according to city officials.
Some downtown and business groups have asked the city to consider expanding the TIF program to use those funds to support private development.
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Joan Redeen of the downtown Business Improvement District said in October that she and Kellie Pierce of the Downtown Great Falls Association are working on proposals that would expand the downtown TIF program to include code compliance projects, façade work for private properties, streetscapes and crime prevention through environmental design projects.
As of November, they had not presented a draft to the DDP, but said they were working with city staff to develop a draft.
Accounting for funds already obligated, the downtown TIF fund currently has about $924,000 available, according to city staff. Since the district was established in 2012, the City Commission has approved $531,931 worth of TIF funded improvements with $230,109 of approved projects not yet paid, according to city documents.
Staff has said they’d research and consider expanded uses of the TIF funds, but have said in many public meetings that they believe the state laws governing the program dictate that the funds should be used for public infrastructure and improvements.
Using the TIF funds to finance the Civic Center project will allow the city to fix the historic building without increasing taxes for property owners.
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Brett Doney of the Great Falls Development Authority and a DDP member voted in support of TIF funds for the Civic Center during the October meeting but that he won’t vote to support the use of TIF funds for other public facility projects until the City Commission votes on expanded programs for the use of downtown TIF funds.
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The Great Falls Park and Recreation Center has submitted a request to use $80,600 in downtown TIF funds to replace the roof at the Community Recreation Center. Steve Herrig, Park and Rec director, said that the project was planned for the spring, but COVID delayed the work.
Staff has since withdrawn that request and will instead use savings from other park district projects to fund the Rec Center roof repairs.
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The city is planning to close the Rec Center when the new joint aquatics and recreation facility is built on the east side of town near Malmstrom Air Force Base.
Herrig said that the roof repair is needed if the city wants to repurpose or sell the building.
Shane Etzweiler of the Great Falls Area Chamber of Commerce voted against the use of TIF funds for the Civic Center during the October meeting.
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In early October, the City Commission unanimously approved an amendment to the Downtown Urban Renewal Plan to include Civic Center repairs.
Their Oct. 6 action merely updated the downtown plan and does not include any actual approval of funding for the project, contracts or use of tax increment financing dollars, but the plan amendment was needed to specify the Civic Center as a project eligible for downtown TIF funds.
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In June, City Manager Greg Doyon restricted access to the front 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.
As a precaution, the city is installing barricades to protect the public from falling debris.
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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 façade 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.”
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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 façade panels that have been failing, creating a potential safety hazard as they continue to deteriorate.
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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.
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The Civic Center includes the Convention Center and the Mansfield Theater, and Raymond said in August that “it would be a disservice to dismiss the positive effect those facilities have on the downtown.”
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“I understand what people are saying when they express reservations about the Civic Center using those funds, but there’s no question in my mind when you look at the statutory language, it actually puts a preference and an emphasis on public infrastructure and facilities,” Raymond said during the September DDP meeting. “I don’t think anybody could argue that there isn’t a heavy emphasis on public facilities” in the statute.