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City hall's parking garage helps downtown business.

Each year, the City of Billings City Council adopts for itself and city staff a set of goals and objectives for the coming fiscal year. The first and foremost goal adopted by the city council in June of 1988 was to promote economic development. This goal included the use of community development tax increment allocations within an existing tax increment district to support new and expanded business. Several tax increment revolving loans were granted to existing businesses that chose to revamp or relocate their businesses downtown. The tax increment district had been created in 1976, along with a downtown redevelopment plan. The plan, establishing long-range objectives and generalized development schemes, addressed issues relating to building conditions, land use, growth, traffic and circulation, and the need for additional parking.

The four principle objectives of the redevelopment effort are:

* elimination of blight within the district;

* provision of public improvements;

* maintenance of downtown viability; and

* leverage of public investment dollars through private enterprises resulting in increased assessments within the district.

City Needs and Business Needs

The council also took the first step in 1988 toward making a new parking garage with city office space a reality. This facility, when completed, would provide approximately 300 new downtown parking spaces and 10,00 square feet of additional office space for city agencies. The one-half block site for the facility is located immediately south of the existing city hall.

A contract with a local architectural firm for the design documents and for carrying the project through the construction phase was signed in August 1989. The design was to be based, in part, on the recommendation of a space utilization study addressing the overcrowding in city hall, most notably in the Police Department, and the existing deficiencies, such as a lack of conference space.

The study utilized the following rating schedule:

8-Severely overcrowded and in desperate need for additional space immediately.

7-Severely overcrowded with department fragmented; need additional space and reorganization.

6-Overcrowded with department fragmented; need additional space and reorganization.

5-Overcrowded; need additional space for present operation.

4-Need additional space for present operations; however, can get by for two to three years.

3-Adequate space at present with reorganization; no room for growth beyond five years.

2-Adequate space and has room for expansion, but needs reorganization for improved efficiency.

1-Ample space for current and future needs.

The Police Department and Finance Department were given a rating of 7, followed by the City Attorney's Office at 6 and the Information Resources Department at 5.

The second area of concern for the city council was parking needs in the downtown business area. But designing the new facility as a dual-use structure, available parking could be increased for commuters and daily shoppers. The goal of the additional parking was to allow for rapid turnover for on-street parking to attract new business in the downtown area, and at the same time, provide covered parking during the inclement weather for those wishing to utilize it.

A Dual-Use Design

A dual-use facility was designed to meet both the needs of city government and the downtown business area. City departments that were proposed for relocation on the ground level of the new facility included the Finance and Administrative Services Department, the Information Resources Department and the City Administration including the Personnel Division. Conference rooms and an elected officials' office, neither of which existed in the former city hall, were located there as well.

The main lobby in the new structure can be accessed directly from the parking garage facility, and the first floor is connected to the former city hall building via a walkway between the lobby areas. The new parking structure provides additional parking spaces for 273 vehicles, giving a total of 3,336 spaces in the downtown area, as reflected in Exhibit 1. ("Park 3" denotes the new facility in this exhibit.)

The design of the new structure also provides a second-floor skybridge to Market Square, a five-story complex of business, professional and retail establishments. The basement provides spaces for food vendors and eating places. The building was designed so that an additional level of parking may be added as demand necessitates.

The design contract also provided for the remodeling of the current city hall to accommodate the relocated Police Department. It will not only receive the overcrowding problem, but provide ground-level, public access to the department and secured parking as part of the police operation. Expanded city hall space was designed also for the City Attorney's Office, the Court and the Prosecuting Attorney's Office. Construction began in spring of 1990.

The construction was completed on the new parking garage and city hall expansion, and the city took occupancy in April 1991. During the final phases, it was recommended that the city consider a skybridge attaching the city hall and the county courthouse across the street for easier access by residents, the city Police Department, the Sheriff's Department and the court systems. On August 18, 1991, the skybridge was dedicated and turned over to the city.

The cost of the dual project was


approximately $4,350,000. The money was derived from the property tax within the tax increment district. All of the property taxes for the schools, county and city, over the base valuation, are captured within the tax increment district. The city owns and operates the parking facility as an enterprise fund. The projected annual income for the parking garage is $64,100.

Downtown Business Responds

What are the advantages for Billings? The new parking garage gives the downtown area 308 additional spaces. It also has alleviated the pressure in other parking garages, by moving city-employee parking into the new facility.

The improved parking situation has stimulated a vacant anchor store in the downtown area to remodel and a new department store to move in with a 60,000 square-foot retail store and approximately 20,000 square feet of storage. This will employ approximately 100 to 125 people. It is the wish of the new anchor store not to allow any employees to park in their parking garage, but to use that for downtown customer parking. With the addition of the new parking garages, the city is able to offer parking in the existing parking garage to the new employees that will be in the downtown area. This added employee parking fees the on-street parking meters for customers of the downtown businesses.

The remodeling of the old city hall gives the public easier access to the Police Department, which is housed on the first floor of city hall, where the administrative offices and City Attorney's Office are located. The second floor has been remodeled to increase the space for the Detective Division of the Police Department, and the city court functions will be maintained on the second floor. The new parking garage skybridge to the county courthouse allows both county and city officials quick access to court functions. The long-awaited additional room for the police operations for traffic enforcement and support service will all be provided for on the third floor.

None of this would have been possible but for the foresight of the city council and the residents of the City of Billings in approving the tax increment district back in 1976.

NATHAN R. TUBERGEN is director of finance and administrative services for the City of Billings, Montana, and a member of the GFOA Executive Board.
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Title Annotation:City of Billings, Montana
Author:Tubergen, Nathan R.
Publication:Government Finance Review
Date:Feb 1, 1992
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