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Big Timber, not Big Sky, to host Cowboy Hall of Fame

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By Taylor Anderson,

After months of waiting for what was supposed to be announced Nov. 30 of last year but ended up being made on April 30, the Cowboy Hall of Fame and Western Heritage Center has chosen Big Timber for the site of its new museum.

Big Sky, led by Ryan Hamilton and other Big Sky leaders, placed a strong application that made it to the final round of judging before the hall of fame board announced its final decision.

“Ryan Hamilton has done on behalf of Big Sky a phenomenal job,” Cowboy Hall of Fame finance director Aaron Lyles said. “We would have had an incredible partner in Big Sky had we picked that spot.”

Some questioned whether Big Sky’s cowboy heritage was rich enough to warrant putting the state’s museum here, but Lyles said heritage had nothing to do with the nonprofit’s final decision.

Ultimately, the decision hinged upon land and finances.

As part of the application, the Town Center set aside eight acres of land in the development for the project at a discounted price of $500,000— as much as eight times less than the market value of the land, Lyles said.

“The Simkins family made an unbelievably incredible offer. It was probably the greatest financial offer made of all the offers,” Lyles said.

The ideal site would exist on a 30-acre parcel, Lyle said. An original, 25-acre site off Highway 191 in the Canyon was priced too high and was taken off the table for Big Sky’s final offer. In an effort to strengthen the application, Hamilton and the Simkins family shifted gears and offered the land in the Town Center.

But in picking Big Timber, the board had a 30-acre site that was already partially developed and would cost less.

“At the end of the day it was a financial decision,” Lyles said. “They did all the site work, all the infrastructure was fully developed. It was [originally developed] to be a Ford dealership” before that project was abandoned four or five years ago.

The race narrowed over the 10 months to towns centered mostly in the more populated western part of the state, including Big Sky, Livingston, Twin Bridges and Madison County.

But ultimately Big Timber, a central Montana town with a population of 1,801, took home the project.

Big Sky attached itself to Yellowstone National Park to strengthen its application, pointing out the millions of travelers who use the nearby west entrance to enter the park annually. It also pointed to the numerous occasions town leaders have risen together to complete collaborative projects, including most recently the Big Sky PBR, adding wayfinding signage to the area, new branding efforts, and the Warren Miller Performing Arts Center.

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