Helena Magazine

Mayor’s Corner with Brian Puckett: An update on the future town center project

Published 6:49 am Wednesday, July 13, 2022

A weekly update from Helena Mayor Brian Puckett

I hope that everyone has had a great week since my last update. Today’s will be jam packed with the latest news on the Helena Forward project that was approved by the City Council at Monday night’s meeting. But before we get to that, I want to remind everyone about our upcoming annual Bulk Trash Day.

This Saturday, the city is partnering with Republic Services from 7 a.m. to noon at the Helena Sports Complex. This is your opportunity to clean out your rooms, basement and garages and to have a place to take all of your forgotten junk.

This annual service is free to all Helena residents. We will be checking for proof of residency before you can take advantage of this service. There are some things that we will not be able to accept like paint, tires, mattresses, batteries and corrosives, as examples.

There is not a complete list of everything that will not be accepted, but we ask for everyone to use common sense. The rule of thumb: If it’s questionable, don’t bring it.

Now let’s get to update of the hour: “The Helena Forward Project.”

A resolution was passed on Monday night to enter into a partnership agreement that includes two main projects to continue moving our city forward in a way that will benefit our residents for many years to come.

I know that there have been a lot of questions on social media, so I would like to tell everyone what the resolution does and how that affects the city and the partners.

This State Amendment 772 Agreement will bring a new town center and a sports and leisure complex. Within the town center, the city will build a new municipal building. People have been commenting on why are we going to develop these types of things when we don’t have the comprehensive plan in our hands yet or a city planner.

Our new comprehensive plan is finishing up and will be delivered in August. The firm, MKSK, has been listening to the community and the residents’ desires, and they are experts in building comprehensive plans that are actionable for the community on the best way to move forward with a plan.

All of this is to say that this project is on track with their plans, and they have been with us every step of the way in developing this agreement.

The deliverables of this Helena Forward Project will be the 12 acres on the corner of Shelby County 52 and Hillsboro Parkway (the corner with the lot that was cleared a few years ago) for the town center and municipal building, and a 50-acre sports and leisure complex at the corner of Coalmont Road and Hillsboro Parkway (corner where the old RC airstrip was).

The town center will be a mixed-use development that will bring the village-type atmosphere of living, working and playing while promoting alternate transportation methods in a community feel for everyone to enjoy.

We are not going to bulldoze all the trees, but rather incorporate the natural areas throughout the park, similar to how Lee Springs Park incorporates the natural beauty of the area.

The biggest question I am seeing and hearing is how in the world is this being paid for? The simple answer is that we have been able to capital stack the funding for this project, and we will continue to do that so we, as residents, don’t bear all the costs of this project.

US Steel will be “donating” all of the land to the city now along with funding several portions of the project. Federal/state money through AML (Abandoned Mine Land) grants has been secured to develop the sports park.

A developer will pay all of the costs associated with developing the town center. The city will be responsible for the cost of completing the infrastructure of the town center site.

We are not borrowing or dipping into any of the reserve funds we built up over the last few years, or making any residents pay for this cost. We are funding this through the ARPA funding we received from the federal government.

I, along with the council, have viewed the ARPA funding as generational money that has been gifted to us.

So how do we use these funds for true generational change for our community? The municipal building will be funded by a new bond debt service. The new bond that will be issued eventually is based on budgeted income, which means that we already have the funds to pay the debt service. So no, we are not raising property or any other taxes to get this done.

We have been extremely fiscally responsible in the last couple of years to allow us to make these kinds of moves without hitting the pockets of the residents. The Helena Forward Project is going to be an $86 million built economic impact on our city and will average $42 million in future annual economic impact on our city.

I know there will be many more questions about this project as we move forward, and we will continue to give you the information as more of the details come together. Our goal is to develop the city in smart ways that are in line with the strategic comprehensive plan. I hope everyone has a great rest of the week and I can’t wait to see you on Saturday for bulk trash day.

Together As One,