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One Big Sky Center
Courtesy of the Billings Gazette

New West Daily Roundup for Nov. 15, 2016

Today in New West news: Billings approves One Big Sky Center agreement, Utah incentivizes WhiteWave Foods Company, Colorado supersonic jet, and Denver’s abysmal recycling record.

Yesterday, we reported the Billings City Council would meet and discuss a “pre-development memorandum of understanding” between the city and the proposed $165 million One Big Sky Center for downtown. According to the Billings Gazette, the council voted 6-2 in support of the memorandum:

Joining Mayor Tom Hanel in support of approving the agreement were Shaun Brown, Dick Clark, Ryan Sullivan, Rich McFadden and Larry Brewster.

Opposing it were Chris Friedel and Mike Yakawich.

Councilman Brent Cromley recused himself from the vote, saying his law office has completed some work for the developers. Council members Angela Cimmino and Al Swanson were absent.

While the agreement contains “no concrete commitments or responsibilities,” it does “authorize staff to work with the developers to produce an acceptable development agreement by June 30, 2017,” Assistant City Administrator Bruce McCandless wrote in a memo before the meeting.

Skip Ahern, one of three partners in MontDevCo LLC, told the city council he wasn’t yet asking for tax increment financing help.

“I don’t need your TIF funds now,” he said. “What I need now is an expression of interest.”

He said he “built the most expensive office buildings” in Denver and Phoenix, “and we filled them right up.”

MontDevCo seeks $30 million in tax increment financing as part of the $165 million it estimates it will need to complete the mixed-use development, which will include office and apartment buildings, a conference center, a parking garage, retail space and public greenspace along North 29th Street.

Ahern said the construction firm Swank Enterprises, with its building in the footprint of One Big Sky Center, “will be heavily involved” in the project, but “we also could use a contractor who has built something like this before.”

Business consultant Janine Mix praised the decision, citing support from area millennials (such as herself) as well as ongoing developments in Missoula, Montana, which has some notable ongoing projects, including the proposed Riverfront Triangle complex.

Over in Utah, according to Utah Business, the Governor’s Office of Economic Development (GOED) Board has approved a “post-performance tax credit rebate” for Denver-based WhiteWave Foods, a distributor specializing in products like Silk, Horizon Organic, Wallaby Organic and Earthbound Farm, among others. The GOED’s executive director, Val Hale, praised the move, citing the Beehive State’s manufacturing background and prime distribution location. From Utah Business:

The WhiteWave Foods project will create up to 105 jobs over the next six years. The total wages in aggregate are required to exceed 110 percent of the county average wage. The projected new state wages over the life of the agreement are expected to be approximately $27,207,296. Projected new state tax revenues, as a result of corporate, payroll and sales taxes, are estimated to be $5,009,392 over six years.

“WhiteWave’s product lines represent a growing trend toward organic and plant-based food products and helps put the state on the map in this burgeoning sector,” said Michael Flynn, chief marketing officer and acting chief of staff at the Economic Development Corporation of Utah.

WhiteWave Foods may earn up to 20 percent of the new state taxes they will pay over the six-year life of the agreement in the form of a post-performance Economic Development Tax Increment Finance (EDTIF) tax credit rebate. As part of the contract with WhiteWave Foods, the GOED Board of Directors has approved a post-performance tax credit rebate not to exceed $1,001,878. Each year as WhiteWave Foods meets the criteria in its contract with the state, it will earn a portion of the total tax credit rebate.

As of writing, WhiteWave Foods has not decided on a location for their operation yet.

Over in Colorado, according to the Denver Business Journal, a new startup, backed by Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, is working on a new supersonic passenger airliner aimed at revolutionizing air travel:

Boom Technology Inc., based at Centennial Airport in Arapahoe County, is building its XB-1 test plane to demonstrate its technology and designs for a larger 45-passenger jet capable of flying 1,450 mph — 2.2 times the speed of sound.

The test plane is being publicly unveiled Tuesday. It’s smaller than the planned full-sized passenger jet.

Boom, a 12-employee company, says the passenger jet it’s designing will be capable of flying from London from New York City in three hours and 11 minutes, or Denver to Tokyo in just under seven hours.

At that speed, said Blake Scholl, Boom’s CEO and founder, a business traveler could fly to and from Denver and do a day’s worth of business in Japan’s capital without having to adjust to time changes and get lag.

“What we’re doing isn’t just shaving off an hour here or there. We’re changing access to the planet,” Scholl said.

The first flight of the XB-1 demonstration plane, known by employees as the “Baby Boom,” is planned for late 2017.

Test flights below the speed of sound are planned east of the Denver metro area, which will be followed by supersonic tests in the desert near Edwards Air Force Base in Southern California, the company said.

Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic announced in March it had optioned the first 10 Boom Technology passenger-jet bodies. Virgin Galactic, a spaceship-building arm of the billionaire’s conglomerate Virgin Group Ltd., is helping Boom with aspects of its airplane development.

Finally, keeping with Colorado, according to the Denver Business Journal, the city of Denver is woefully lagging when it comes to its recycling program—contrary to the city (and the state’s) image as being very green-friendly:

According to a report created by the Colorado Public Interest Research Group and Eco-Cycle, Denver’s recycling rate is only 18 percent, or “at the back of the pack” when it comes to other similarly sized U.S. cities. Fresno, California, for example, has a recycling rate of 71 percent and Seattle has a recycling rate of 60 percent, according to the report.

In Colorado, Denver trails in recycling, falling way behind cities like Loveland (61 percent) and Boulder (54 percent).

“Denver has one of the worst recycling rates in the country, and many of the city’s current policies make it difficult for residents to do the right thing,” said the report’s co-author, Danny Katz, in a statement.

Even though Denver residents are big supporters of recycling, with 88 percent saying it’s “very important” or “essential,” the city’s efforts are falling flat.

The report points out that recycling efforts are hindered, in part, by lack of options for apartment dwellers, who increasingly comprise vast parts of the city’s population. Recommendations to boost recycling in Denver, per the report, include focusing on multi-family housing units and offering free composting options.

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