City still working on lease for former visitor center

The city is working with Great Falls Montana Tourism for a lease of the former Visitor Center at 15 Overlook Drive.

In August, the city solicited proposals to lease the former Visitors Center, which has been vacant since the summer of 2017, when Great Falls Tourism moved downtown, to the basement of 100 1st Ave. N.

Only the tourism agency submitted a proposal and city staff extended the deadline.

Tourism submits proposal to lease Overlook Drive building; City intends to re-issue the request for proposals

Steve Herrig, Park and Recreation director, said the city received a proposal from an Edward Jones office, but had “several issues with it” and is now working with the tourism office to  reach an agreement that would need City Commission approval.

Rebecca Engum, director of Great Falls Montana Tourism, said her office submitted a visitor facility grant application to the state recently in anticipation of reaching a lease agreement with the city.

City seeking lease proposals for former visitor center on Overlook Drive

In August, Engum told The Electric that her office is looking at moving its entire operation from downtown to the Overlook Drive building.

Previously, the tourism office was split across two locations, the Visitor Center on Overlook Drive and the 1st Avenue North office. At the time, the Overlook Drive location was solely for visitor services while the rest of the office’s operations, such as recruiting conventions, meetings and events; media placement; public relations and other tasks, were conducted out of the downtown office.

CDBG back on commission agenda, plus chickens and visitor center lease

Engum said at the time, it wasn’t effective to maintain both locations while there was a decrease in volunteers at the former visitor center.

When the lease was up at the Overlook Drive location, Engum said the decision was made to consolidate operations downtown.

Now, the lease at the downtown building is up and tourism has been looking for a new basecamp, Engum said, that is more reflective of the team and what they do.

If approved, the Overlook Drive location would not return to its former visitor center function, but would house all of tourism’s operations, which include visitor services, Engum said.

Engum said that volunteer number remain low and in the two and a half years since the visitor center closed, she’s had two inquiries regarding volunteer opportunities and one of those people volunteers for three hours on Mondays.

Engum said that visitor services are similar to retail in that there aren’t set hours when visitors might come through the door seeking information.

Since Tourism left the building in 2017, the city has installed a new HVAC system, removing and replacing the deck, and some minor landscaping, according to Patty Rearden, deputy Park and Rec director.

The city leased the facility to Convention and Visitors Bureau with the Tourism Business Improvement District from July 2014-summer 2017 for $1 annually.

The Visitor Center was built by the city in 1993 and was originally operated in partnership with the Great Falls Area Chamber of Commerce. For 11 years, the city and Chamber shared the costs of the center, but the Chamber’s operating contract ended on Sept. 1, 2014.  The next year, the Park and Recreation Department continued operating the center due to a lack of interest by the Chamber to continue to fund operations.

Before the city can consider final action on the sale, trade or lease of the property, the commission must hold a public hearing and allow at least 15 days notice to the public.