Open house for proposed Billings recreation center draws large crowd

The design-concept phase is underway for a proposed community recreation center in south Billings.

It was obvious at Tuesday night’s open forum that there’s a lot of excitement about the possibility of an indoor recreation that could be used for multiple purposes—including swimming, skating, soccer, basketball, volleyball, pickleball and other sports.

“I’d really like to see a big pool that we can have meets at,” said 12-year-old Jackson Stricker. “Right now, we are all over the place we are at Yellowstone Fitness, MSUB, and Rocky and we would really just like to have one place where we can congregate at and have big meets and stuff.”

The forum drew a large crowd that wanted to see what could possibly be in the plans and give their input.

”This is an opportunity to invest in kids and families and active seniors in our community,” said Kory Thomson, the superintendent for Billings Parks and Recreation.

The multi-generational community recreation center would be built on a 10-acre tract of land that the city owns next to Amend Park.

Dick Zier is president of the South Billings Urban Renewal TIF District. He thinks the rec center would bring a lot of meets and tournaments to the area and is something Billings is sorely lacking.

“We look at it as something that will meet the needs of the community and a real boost for economic development. If you go down to the South Side now you see several restaurants going in down there, and there’s other businesses planning on it. It’s creating a lot of economic activity for the South Side as well,” said Zier.

People were able to pin notes with their suggestions to a board which will be taken into consideration. Ice was tops on the list for many.

“I’m an adult figure skater and I compete competitively on the national adult skating circuit, so I’m very interested in the advent of a new ice rink here in town—especially one that is going to be available year-round,” said Sol Lovas, who can only practice her favorite sport a few months out of the year when she can get on the ice.

Others are anxious for a place to play youth and adult hockey.

“I’m here for the ice but all the other facilities would be amazing,” said John Gizicki.

City administrator Chris Kukulski says money from the city’s tax-increment financing district is already available for the first $35 million, but the price could end up being a lot more than that depending on what is included in the facility—and that would then fall on taxpayers in the form of a construction bond.

“It just totally depends on the size and scale of what the community ends up wanting. Does it want two sheets of ice or no ice? Does it want a 50-meter pool or no pool? And all of that dramatically impacts the total costs,” said Kukulski.

The input from Tuesday’s open forum and other surveys will be used to give designers an idea of what the public wants and what it will cost. Then later this year, the Billings City Council will decide whether to float a bond before voters– which would happen in 2023.

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