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Public forum on rec center draws a crowd

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By Tyler Allen Explore Big Sky Associate Editor
BIG SKY – More than 50 people gathered at Buck’s T-4 Lodge in Big Sky on Jan. 20 to
hear Isaac Sports Group President Stuart Isaac present the status of a feasibility
study for two future recreation facilities in the area.
This was the first public meeting about the proposal for a combined aquatic and
recreation center, as well as an ice and rodeo arena.
“We wanted to present where we’re at with the feasibility study,” said Big Sky
Community Corp. Executive Director Jessie Wiese, as she introduced Isaac. “By no
means is it complete, but we wanted to check in with the community.”
Funded by a $50,000 resort tax grant, the nonprofit BSCC hired ISG and USA
Aquatics to complete the feasibility study. Representatives from the firms visited Big
Sky in July 2013, and their proposal suggested building two separate facilities
instead of combining them into one.
Isaac began the hour-long power point presentation by telling the audience he had
met an employee at Buck’s earlier that day who had moved to Bozeman because
Big Sky is missing the type of facilities the group is proposing.
“It’s not the final blueprint,” Isaac said of the information he was presenting. “A lot
of this is about the goals and objectives. What is the feasibility? How will it pay for
itself?”
ISG/USA Aquatics will come back with a formal presentation in about six weeks, he
said.
Aquatics are the greatest need in the community, Isaac said, and described
potential amenities of the new facility: a family aquatic center, a
competition/recreation/training pool, a warm-water teaching and fitness pool, and a
wave pool for the “cool factor,” which could make Big Sky’s facility a destination.
Isaac also stressed the importance of having the aquatics facility be accessible to
people of all physical abilities and the potential for aquatic therapy with the new
hospital coming to town. Athlete rehabilitation is also one of the most common new
trends in aquatics, he said.
The recreation and fitness components should be integrated with the aquatics
instead of building separate facilities, Isaac said, and be flexible enough to meet a
wide variety of needs. He showed an image of an indoor walking track above a pool
and talked about an indoor field house that could be divided to accommodate
basketball, volleyball, soccer and an indoor batting cage.
Isaac then stressed that these ideas were, “strictly conceptual,” and shifted his
presentation to a potential covered ice rink and rodeo arena. He spoke of building off the momentum the PBR already has in Big Sky, to make a more regular rodeo
program and not have to rebuild the venue each year.
Isaac mentioned how the Warren Miller Performing Arts Center already packs its
available seating during shows and a new, open-air facility with a roof could be used
for larger, outdoor winter concerts. He also spoke to the demand for ice time in
Bozeman resulting in a possible revenue source for a Big Sky ice arena.
“We’ve looked at 12 different sites from the top of the mountain to down the canyon
near the school,” Isaac said. “[There is] one chance to do it right for the next 20-30
years.”
Isaac finished the presentation by telling the audience that ISG/USA Aquatics is
looking at return on investment and long-term economic sustainability. He stressed
the importance of having a five-year annual operating budget, long-term
maintenance estimates and validation of these estimates by comparison to facilities
in similar communities, in addition to the economic impact on the area and the local
jobs that would be created.
While it was reported in the Jan. 10 edition of Explore Big Sky, the newspaper, that the consultants
would present the facilities they’ve drawn up, and the dollar amounts associated
with them, Isaac’s presentation was primarily conceptual and the next public
meeting will contain more of the details, he said.
“About a year ago, [there were] various groups of people that came to BSCC about
building a recreation facility in Big Sky,” Wiese said during a Q & A period that
followed the presentation. “The resort tax board asked ‘who is going to take the
lead?’ So, [BSCC] stepped in and started to look at what makes sense here.”
“Has there been any collaboration with the hospital?” asked one community
member, referring to the aquatic therapy and wellness opportunities Isaac stressed
in the presentation.
“Theoretically yes, realistically no,” Isaac responded. “We are just in the stage
where we’re about to reach out to potential partners…just like you can’t go out to a
donor without a business plan, you can’t go out to a partner [without one either].”
Someone asked if they had an estimated cost for the two facilities.
“Yes and no,” Isaac said. “Some people may come with other ideas.” A
recreation/aquatic center could be anywhere from $15-30 million, he said, and with
the ice being outdoors, that facility could cost anywhere from $6-10 million, or it
could be as low as $4 million. “Don’t take that number and hang your hat on it.”
“I’d encourage a mid-case [estimate],” said Grant Hilton, a BSOA and Rotary Club
board member. “[It’s] great to have four swimming pools, but we don’t even have
one swimming pool.” Another community member asked if the YMCA could be a
viable partner.
“Our community doesn’t fit the demographic for a YMCA,” said Wiese. “There’s been
quite a bit of research done on that.”
“Your community does fit the demographic,” said Andrea Stevenson with the
Gallatin Valley YMCA, who was present at the meeting. “We’ve done programming
in Belgrade without a facility and done work with Ophir School [as well].”
“That’s very different than the information we’ve been given,” Wiese told
Stevenson. “Let’s talk after [the meeting].”
“How does lack of incorporation [in Big Sky] affect this?” asked one audience
member. “I know you’ve looked at everything, but I’m concerned about finances.”
“It doesn’t,” replied Isaac.
“In our research we’ve seen some facilities use fundraising for somewhat of a safety
net,” Wiese said. “Some are owned by municipalities, 501(c)(3)s, or special park
districts like what we have here [in Big Sky].”
ISG/USA Aquatics will return in approximately six weeks, Isaac said, with a detailed
report including facility diagrams, financial statistics, site options and engineering
considerations, as well as an executive summary and power point to be able to
pitch it to a larger Big Sky audience. That information will be presented at the Big
Sky Resort Tax Board meeting on March 13 at 7 p.m.

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