By Bella Butler MANAGING EDITOR
BIG SKY – Local developer Lone Mountain Land Company acquired the remaining undeveloped residential and commercial land in the Town Center in a deal that closed Tuesday. The original developers of Town Center, the Simkins family, sold the approximately 500 acres and applicable development rights and with it their remaining interests in Town Center.
LMLC, a local development arm of Boston-based investment firm CrossHarbor Capital Partners, plans to “move slowly on building things out,” according to LMLC and CrossHarbor Managing Director Matt Kidd. While LMLC envisions a mix of residential, commercial, hospitality and other development, Kidd said nothing specific is planned at this stage and no further building will occur in 2022.
Big Sky’s mountainous land profile has forced the community into a fragmented layout, but Town Center has become a hub where all of Big Sky can connect. Maintaining this identity for the development is at the heart of LMLC’s vision, Kidd said.
“This is where the whole community comes together, right?” Kidd told EBS. “Whether you live in the canyon or in the meadow or in West Fork, in South Fork or at the resort or in Aspen Groves, Yellowstone Club, Spanish Peaks, Moonlight; this is where everybody comes and so we want to build on that.”
The Town Center illustrates an evolution of LMLC and CrossHarbor’s role in the Big Sky community, Kidd said. CrossHarbor made its first appearance in the area in 2009 when it purchased the Yellowstone Club as part of a Chapter 11 reorganization. While prioritizing getting the previously bankrupt private club back in good standing, Kidd said that during its earlier years CrossHarbor needed to focus primarily on internal priorities before broadening its purview to the larger Big Sky community.
By Kidd’s account, that all changed in 2013 when CrossHarbor acquired Spanish Peaks Mountain Club and, later that year, Moonlight Basin. Unlike with the Yellowstone Club, the firm understood it would need to consider a broader view of Big Sky to make those investments successful. According to Kidd, this forced CrossHarbor to expand its role from solely a distressed real estate investor to a community developer.
“We immediately started working with the Simkins family to think about what was going to happen—what could happen—down in Town Center,” he said. “And we have always looked at Town Center as the lifeblood of the year-round community.”
LMLC, formed by CrossHarbor in 2014, acquired its first property in Town Center in 2014. It has since built 80 residential units in Town Center, 78 of which it still owns. The developers launched discussions approximately five years ago with the Simkins family about purchasing the remaining land in Town Center.
The Simkins family purchased the land for Town Center in 1970 and began acquiring development rights in the ‘80s. By the early 2000s, development had begun to rise from what was once little more to the eye than a vast sagebrush field. Today, the development includes more than 250 residential units, according to an LMLC statement, and many commercial units including a host of restaurants, bars, music venues, retailers, grocery stores and a hotel. It’s home to the hospital, the new community center, Len Hill Park, the movie theater and a network of trails along with several other community staples.
“We are proud of our efforts to build an incredible community at Town Center,” the Simkins family wrote in a May 19 statement to EBS. “…The accomplishments that we are most proud of are the community-building, connections, and partnerships that were made over the decades.”
Through the purchase LMLC also became the Town Center declarant and developer and will manage the Town Center Owners Association. It is currently in the process of hiring a new TCOA executive director.
According to a calculation by LMLC, flat land on the west side of the South Fork of the West Fork of the Gallatin River is 64 percent built out. Still, Kidd said one of the hurdles he anticipates facing in building out the rest of Town Center is inspiring community consensus amid some development angst.
“I think the biggest challenge is ultimately trying to build community support for something that we hope is ultimately great for Big Sky as a community and as a place,” he said.
In the context of community struggles such as housing and year-long economic sustainability, Kidd reframed development as a solution rather than a problem.
“We actually can’t address our challenges without more development and growth over time,” he said.
Kidd said “community-based housing,” will be a primary focus of the remaining Town Center development and will likely include a broad spectrum of options ranging from apartments, dorms and small townhouses to single-family homes and larger, market-based products. He added that LMLC plans to work with the Big Sky Community Housing Trust, the Big Sky Resort Area District and other community entities to identify where and when affordability requirements, deed restrictions and other housing solutions might make sense.
Another focus, Kidd noted, will be continuing to use Town Center as a tool to further stabilize Big Sky’s shoulder seasons. This goal was echoed by Big Sky Chamber of Commerce and Visit Big Sky CEO Brad Niva, who since stepping into that role has prioritized building a stronger year-round economy in Big Sky.
“I think Town Center is the only place we can grow and mature as a community,” Niva said. “… It’s the center of the community … it’s still very young. And as we all know, there’s challenges, we have growing pains. I think as our Town Center develops more, and more options and opportunities are available for our visitors but also our residents, [it] maintains a strong economy and maintains a strong community.”
Outside of the private clubs, Kidd said Town Center is for the most part what remains to be developed in Big Sky.
“That is very energizing,” he said. “And we take a lot of responsibility with this.”