City Commission asked to set Feb. 2 public hearing for visitor center lease
The City Commission will be asked next week to set a public hearing for Feb. 2 to consider the lease of the city-owned property 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.
Steve Herrig, Park and Recreation director, said the city received a proposal from an Edward Jones office, but had “several issues with it” and moved into negotiations with the tourism office to reach an agreement that would need City Commission approval.
Negotiations are nearly complete, and a final agreement will be completed in the near future, according to the staff report.
Under city code, the sale, trade or lease of city property requires a public hearing.
Over the term of the lease, Great Falls Montana Tourism will pay a graduated lease payment to Park and
Rec. The lease payment will be $1 for the first year, $500 per month for year two, and $1,000 per month for years three through seven, according to the staff report.
Rebecca Engum, director of Great Falls Montana Tourism, told The Electric in August 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.
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.