A fifth potential site for the Western Legacy Center is being added to the list as the Jefferson County Commissioners move forward with a feasibility study for the project. 

The fifth site, a building in Whitehall, has been added to the mix since the June 11 public meeting, said Jefferson County Commissioners Chairman Leonard Wortman.

Wortman brought up the Whitehall site at the June 16 Commissioners meeting, and at that time, Commissioner Bob Mullen agreed that it should be added as there didn’t seem to be much support at the public meeting for the Boulder sites. 

The property owner, John Cote, said he had a brief conversation about the possibility and is open to a discussion on leasing or selling, but a portion of the 6,000 square foot building is currently occupied by the USDA and the Jefferson County Weed District. The building is on Whitetail Road, about 100 yards from the I-90 exchange in Whitehall. 

“It’s a really great location for anything,” said Cote. 

The four proposed locations in Boulder that were recently presented to the public are:  a site west of I-15 at the Boulder freeway exchange, another piece of property located east of North Main Street and across from Town Pump, the site where the Bull Mountain Volunteer Fire Department is located on Highway 69 and a piece of land next to the Jefferson County Fairgrounds. Those who attended the meeting were asked to comment on each site after being provided the pros and cons. 

At the June 11 meeting, questions were raised as to why a site in Whitehall wasn’t on the list due to its proximity to I-90, to which Wortman responded that the project was conceived to help the City of Boulder due to the loss of jobs from mining and the closure of the Montana Development Center. 

Meanwhile, Wortman chastised the Boulder City Council at its June 15 meeting for not attending the June 11 public meeting. 

Boulder City Council Mayor Rusty Giulio said he stayed away from the public meeting because he didn’t want to add any further negativity to the issue. Instead, he said he spoke privately with Wortman, but did agree to talk publicly with The Monitor. 

Giulio said he thinks the county should reconsider the assets it already has waiting in the wings — namely the south campus of the former Montana Development Center. 

At one time Giulio had doubts that the county would gain possession of the MDC property, but now that the land transfer is in the works, he’s changed his mind. 

A public meeting concerning the land transfer was scheduled for June 24. 

“We can’t do all these projects at once,” he said, referring to plans to overhaul that property for new uses, such as a Veterans Administration pain clinic. 

Giulio said Jefferson High School may also be facing the need for upgrades or an expansion, which could add an additional tax burden to property owners. 

The JHS School Board is awaiting a facilities report, tentatively scheduled for discussion at its July meeting. 

Any improvements to the school would take priority, said Giulio.

Wortman said the MDC campus was eliminated as a potential site for the Western Legacy Center because of its proximity to the correctional centers and youth dynamics. 

The county didn’t think it would be a good fit, he said. 

Boulder City Council President Drew Dawson did attend the June 11 meeting. He thinks it got derailed because the meeting organizers did not make it clear what the purpose was that evening — to get comments on the four sites. 

Dawson still believes that the project needs to be considered, but the feasibility study— which would outline the potential for success as well as costs —  is necessary before any real discussion can be had. 

Dawson does think the City Council should continue to discuss the project, as that will allow residents to voice their views and concerns. 

City Council member Gyle Nix did not attend the meeting due to work, but his wife listened in by phone. 

Nix said the Boulder community has been supportive in the past and didn’t know why there was fresh opposition. 

“They’re finally speaking out, I guess,” he said, adding that he believes the center would be a positive force for the city. 

“We could make this community more vibrant, more appealing,” he said. 

The Boulder Area Chamber of Commerce last week also discussed the results of the public meeting. When it was suggested by Carellen Nix that the Chamber write a letter to support the commissioners, her idea  was met with some resistance by others at the meeting. In the end, the Chamber decided to survey its members to determine what its response would be, if any. 

County Commissioner Cory Hirsch said he tries to keep his distance, as he is also a downtown Boulder business owner and wants to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest.

He is waiting on the results of the feasibility study. The study should show if this facility has the potential to make money. 

“If it won’t feed itself, we won’t do it,” he said of the center. 

 

The project

The Western Legacy Center has been proposed by the Jefferson County Commissioners as a way to boost economic development and capture some of the five million motorists who travel by Boulder each year on I-15. 

The center would celebrate western culture, particularly that of cowboys and cowgirls, and include a retail center, as well as possibly attracting additional businesses. 

The commissioners so far have allocated $50,000 to conduct a feasibility study and preliminary architectural and engineering report, and for which site selection was a key component. 

If the project moves forward, the county is looking to issue bonds and that would first need to be approved by residents through a ballot initiative. 

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