Business notes, culture and future development from the young Big Sky hub
By Finley Timon and Hudson Willett
An epicenter for gathering with family and friends, from sharing coffee or dinner to free public events like Music in the Mountains and the Big Sky Farmers Market, the Big Sky community is perhaps most tangible in the Town Center area.
While still young, over the past decade the area has experienced significant growth and development. As businesses flourish and construction projects shape the landscape, Town Center has become a bustling hub for locals and visitors alike. Brad Niva, CEO of the Big Sky Chamber of Commerce, said Big Sky’s Town Center serves well as the informal downtown of the unincorporated community, acting as an Apres meeting spot in the winter, and reaching peak traffic during summer events season, such as Music in the Mountains, Big Sky PBR and Wildlands Festival.
“Big Sky technically doesn’t have a downtown… [Town Center is] in part becoming more and more of what we consider ‘Main Street,’” Niva said.
Town Center is an unofficial area in Big Sky, south of Montana Highway 64 (Lone Mountain Trail) between the Big Sky Medical Center and Big Pine Drive. Described on its website as a 165-acre walking village in construction since 2001, Town Center developers continue to build toward an evolving master site plan.
Niva highlighted this growth, noting that, “the number of restaurants has increased from three or four, to ten.” With investments from Lone Mountain Land Company—owner and developer of much of the Town Center area since May 2022—the modern village is poised for further expansion, welcoming new shopping outlets, restaurants, amenities, housing and overall development.
Although a few businesses have closed in the past year—including Choppers, Niseko Ramen, The Standard, and Black Diamond—Niva said Town Center’s overall trajectory remains one of growth and opportunity.
Charting the course
As development continues, Lone Mountain Land Company will play a big role in Town Center development.
“Lone Mountain Land Company has been at work refining the Master Plan for the undeveloped commercial and residential land within [Town Center],” Bayard Dominick, vice president of planning and development at LMLC, wrote in an email to EBS.
He added that LMLC has engaged numerous consultants and community organizations to assist in charting the roadmap for future development. According to Dominick, LMLC’s primary objective is to evolve the planning of Town Center while ensuring a sustainable path forward for the Big Sky community, addressing the needs of both residents and visitors.
Dominick wrote that LMLC will continue to fine tune its long-term planning efforts to support creative and thoughtful evolution of Town Center, with key factors in mind: housing, conservation, sustainability and transportation.
He also highlighted the importance of meeting community demands: “LMLC looks to further define [Town Center] as the central hub for Big Sky’s community to gather – locals and guests.”
Dominick wrote that the near-term focus has been to complete and improve upon the existing commercial core and plaza—the pedestrian area on Town Center Avenue that features a playground and numerous adjacent businesses.
One noteworthy expansion beside the commercial core is The Franklin Building, Town Center’s newest residential and commercial development, set to finish in March 2024. The owner and developer, MJ Development—also the developer of The Cave building, the Alder & Tweed building and the Beehive Basin Brewery building—is leading the project in partnership with Langlas & Associates, Bectle Architects and Haas Builders.
“We believe The Franklin Building will be the crown jewel of Town Center, inspiring future development projects, and it will stitch main street and Town Center together, making walking, shopping and dining around our community a better experience for all,” said Kali Quick, VP of Haas Builders. “We are thrilled to add more local businesses and one-of-a-kind residences to Big Sky’s growing thriving community.”
The Franklin Building will feature nine commercial spaces that have been sold to a variety of business owners. Eight of the 18 residential spaces are already under contract, with penthouse residences featuring 4th floor, private rooftop decks with optional hot tubs and heated underground parking for residences.
“The Franklin is going to fill a niche here at Town Center—businesses such as SAV Digital Environments, Cold Stone [Creamery] and 406 Agave will be moving into the commercial space,” Michael Pitcairn, a listing agent for the building with Outlaw Realty, told EBS. The diversification of businesses boosted by the addition of the Franklin will bring more opportunities for local businesses and the Big Sky community, Pitcairn added.
Outlaw Realty is affiliated with Outlaw Partners, the publisher of EBS.
“It’s been a long time coming but we are just thrilled to add local businesses and private residents to this growing thriving community,” Quick said.
The Wilson Hotel, a Marriott Hotel also framing that core of Town Center, has witnessed the evolving nature of the community since the hotel opened in June 2019.
“New businesses are coming into play, lots of development, and we know there’s more to come,” said Mandy Hotovy, the hotel’s general manager. She emphasized the importance of mutual success among establishments and the need for small businesses to advertise and support each other.
Hotovy is optimistic about the future and the hotel’s ability to cater to guests’ needs, an optimism shared by Blue Buddha Sushi Lounge, a restaurant located within shouting distance of the hotel.
“We’ve enjoyed great success here since opening in 2019, it was the right place, right product, right time,” said owner Troy “Twist” Thompson.
“To have a great restaurant and strong community it takes consistent, well-trained people and we need to find a way so they can make a life here in Big Sky,” Thompson added.
He emphasized the importance of affordable employee housing to retain middle management, and that Big Sky’s housing crisis is forcing many experienced employees out of Big Sky, which, he said, hurts consistency of quality and identity for restaurants and other businesses.
At the recent groundbreaking ceremony for RiverView Apartments, a 97-unit complex to be reserved for local full-time workers, LMLC Managing Director Matt Kidd said the company plans to develop another 900 units over the next decade between Gallatin Gateway and Big Sky—an investment of $600 million, he estimated.
“The housing problem in Big Sky is big. It’s real,” Kidd said at the May 4 ceremony. “We’ve been working to make Big Sky more livable for more locals and [workers].”
For solutions beyond entry-level renting, the Big Sky Community Housing Trust is working to enable workforce homeownership through the Good Deeds program, which places permanent deed restrictions on existing homes—reserving those homes for full-time workers and excluding short-term rentals—in exchange for incentives to homeowners or sellers.
Lone Mountain Land Company expects to share more expanded plans for Town Center later in the summer.
A home BASE
Big Sky Community Organization is a nonprofit that is “dedicated to facilitating year-round recreational programs, outdoor spaces and community partnerships that serve all of Big Sky—enhancing access and quality of life for everyone that lives, works and plays [in Big Sky],” as stated on BSCO’s website.
BASE is BSCO’s community center, completed in March 2022, located in the middle of Town Center. BASE provides fitness and wellness classes, indoor climbing, youth programs and other resources for the people of Big Sky.
“We’re very proud to be a part of the growth,” said Madeleine Feher, director of operations. ”Part of the reason we are here is for the community. We want to continue to build community with this space.”
Feher highlighted the importance BASE holds in the community’s opinion, even as the center they are located in grows.
“People want more, they want more things for the community… We’re looking ahead at how we can not only create new space that’s set aside for the community, but also how we improve the space that we currently have,” Feher said.
Similar to other organizations in town, BSCO has improvement plans for Big Sky.
“Amidst all of the growth, amidst all of the new construction, all of that to help the community—know that we’re expanding our trails and we’re improving our park space,” Feher said.
Businesses help one another thrive
The Waypoint, a movie theater and restaurant formerly known as The Independent and Lone Peak Cinema, focuses on providing a place for locals and visitors to meet in Town Center.
“We hold all kinds of events here—like we had a Taylor Swift party last week,” the theater’s general manager, Ben Axe, told EBS. “We’re just trying to get people together. That is what a waypoint is, a place for people to meet.”
With the growth in Town Center, Axe said communication between businesses is paramount.
“There are a lot of new places but [Town Center is] still a relatively small place,” Axe said. “Say Tips Up is having an event one night. We want to know about that, so we don’t also host one and split the crowd, and vice versa.”
Some businesses have stood the test of time. East Slope Outdoors—originally East Slope Anglers and Mad Wolf Ski & Sports—has been in Big Sky since 1986, and relocated to Town Center in 2013. Owner “Super Dave” Alvin has been selling gear and guiding in Big Sky for decades.
“We have great working relationships with other retailers and businesses here. If we don’t have something here we point customers in someone else’s direction,” Bo Brueck at East Slope told EBS.
For restaurants and retailers, foot traffic is bolstered by weekly summer events like Music in the Mountains and the farmers market, plus events at Big Sky Resort and concerts and festivals hosted at the Big Sky Events Arena.
“It’s been great in so many ways, we have a great community and events here,” Blue Buddha’s Thompson said.
An area roughly two-thirds built out after about a decade of construction in earnest, Town Center has gone from a sagebrush flat to a community landmark. For Big Sky community members sticking around for years to come, the downtown feel will continue to evolve.