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LADC to hear formal proposals June 9

| June 4, 2004 12:00 AM

By Brent Shrum, Western News Reporter

The Libby Area Development Co. will formally hear proposals on construction of an outdoor event arena at J. Neils Park and expansion of the golf course at Cabinet View Country Club at a meeting scheduled for 7 p.m. on Wednesday, June 9, at the Memorial Center.

The arena proposal was initially presented by Ralph Heinert and Don Bernall at an informal meeting last week attended by only two of the LADC¹s seven members. Bernall provided a recap of the proposal at another informal meeting this Wednesday attended by five LADC members.

The project is estimated at $75,000 to build a 150-by-280-foot fenced arena plus $170,000 for a 1,000-seat roofed grandstand for a total of $245,000. The arena would host rodeos and a variety of other events.

Heinert and Bernall said last week that they would like to have the arena built in time for a Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association rodeo scheduled for July 30-31 of this year. They acknowledged, though, that the grandstand would have to wait until next spring.

Heinert said last week that the arena should pay for itself in two to three years through money brought into the community by people attending events at the park.

Representatives of the country club attended this week¹s meeting to brief the LADC on a $1.5 million loan proposal to fund the expansion of the golf course from nine holes to 18 and begin the development of 100 new home sites around the golf course.

The expanded golf course would increase tourism, and the construction of 100 new homes and influx of an estimated 200 new residents with money to spend would contribute to the local economy, said CVCC representative John Feeman.

³The way we look at this is it¹s a job creation program,² Feeman said. ³To me that¹s the primary thing.²

Payback of the loan would be tied to the sale of the lots.

At the request of the country club, the city has developed plans for extension of sewer service to the area and started a process to seek funding for the project. A survey conducted by project supporters has assured the city that area residents would approve annexation into the city limits, which is required for the extension of sewer service.

The LADC reviewed two other proposals for funding at Wednesday¹s meeting but decided neither is ready for formal consideration.

Gary Huntsberger asked the LADC to provide $66,000 to add to $34,000 the school district has set aside to fund the demolition of the old high school building at the corner of Mineral Avenue and Lincoln Boulevard.

Huntsberger stressed that the property is worth more money without the deteriorating building on it and that renovation would not be cost effective. He said he is working with the approval of the school board as a volunteer to facilitate the building¹s demolition.

LADC member Earl Messick said he thought the school board is taking ³a backwards approach² on the issue.

³It¹s the taxpayers¹ building, not just yours, not just mine, not just Joe Blow¹s to do anything with,² he told Huntsberger.

LADC chairman Robb MacDonald suggested the school board is shirking its responsibility by leaving the decision on funding for demolition up to another organization.

³I believe that the school district is basically pawning this off on the LADC,² he said.

The school board needs to make up its mind whether it wants to demolish the building or preserve it, then come to the LADC if necessary, MacDonald said.

The school board is scheduled to hear proposals from both Huntsberger and a group interested in preserving the building at a meeting on June 22.

Bob Munson of the Friends of Historic Libby High School told the LADC members that community support of demolition is ³not a slam dunk² as Huntsberger has indicated, and that his group has obtained as many signatures on a petition supporting preservation of the building as Huntsberger has gathered supporting demolition.

³I think your petitions and that need to go to the school board meeting, and I think that¹s where this needs to be resolved,² MacDonald said.

The LADC also balked at a $285,000 grant request to fund a variety of improvements at the Libby Area Chamber of Commerce visitor center and at the adjacent Fireman¹s Park.

The Chamber is looking to work on landscaping improvements to the area around the eagle sculpture and at the adjacent park, build new restrooms at the park, enlarge and pave the parking lot, change the roadway entrance to accommodate traffic when a new signal light is installed at the nearby intersection, purchase a new reader board and advertise Libby to outside areas.

Chamber representative Dick Wood said the organization could prioritize the numerous items in its proposal upon request.

Messick expressed concerns about funding improvements to the city park, which permits overnight camping and has drawn criticism from private campground and RV park owners. MacDonald said he agreed with Messick¹s criticism and said he¹s already been ³slammed² by park owners who had heard about the proposal.

LADC member Mike Munro, however, said he sees how improvements to the visitor center could incite more people to stop as they pass through town.

³That¹s how you start creating tourist dollars in Libby, is to get them to pull over,² he said.

LADC member Bob Parker criticized the Chamber for failing to work on bringing conventions and similar events to Libby. He said people have expressed an interest in bringing their events to Libby, ³and we can¹t get anyone to move.²

³To me that¹s what the Chamber should be doing,² he said. ³That¹s economic development.²

MacDonald said he supports portions of the proposal but not the part regarding the city park. Munro said he would like to see a more detailed budget.

The LADC directed Wood to take the proposal back to the Chamber board to address some of the concerns raised at Wednesday¹s meeting and possibly return with a modified proposal for reconsideration.