Urban Revitalization

Building a Community

Since its inception, High Plains Architects has established itself as a leader in the urban revitalization of downtown Billings. Our firm has worked on many of the recent rehabilitation projects throughout the downtown area, including several projects on the recently revitalized Montana Avenue. Additionally, the firm has been the leader of the Minnesota Avenue revolution with multiple historic building renovations, establishing the Old Town Historic District, and implementing a streetscape master plan. A large volume of feasibility studies have led to many successful urban projects, increasing the living capacity and commercial activity of downtown Billings.

This experience has since expanded to projects in Bozeman, Great Falls, Whitehall, Red Lodge, Laurel and other communities in the region. Historic buildings and downtown areas provide the charm, character, and density that lends itself easily to creating a healthy, livable, walk-able, and vibrant neighborhood. Many leaders are recognizing this huge potential that exists within the historic downtown cores of their respective communities and are looking to High Plains to help them realize it.   

Creating Livable Communities - The Minnesota Avenue Revolution

Our office and Living Lab is located in downtown Billings, just south of the tracks on Minnesota Avenue. Although it was the original township of historic Billings back in the 1890's, this part of town, adjacent to the railroad tracks, started to develop a negative stereotype over the last fifty years. It had become seedy and dangerous, highlighted by saloons, gambling, fighting, and regular police traffic. During the first decade of the 21st century, Montana Avenue, just north of the tracks, began to experience a renewal. Many new restaurants, art galleries, and loft apartments were established in historic buildings. This transformed the area into a thriving pedestrian friendly urban neighborhood. Minnesota Avenue, just south of the tracks, is currently undergoing its own similar revitalization, or 'revolution,' as we like to say!   

High Plains Architects has been a major part of this revolution. One of the first projects completed by the firm was One South Broadway, turning an old refrigerated warehouse into loft apartments and street level commercial space. This commercial space was the home of High Plains Architects for seven years, and was somewhat of the spark to the following redevelopment.  Another renovation project, just down the street, is the L&L Building. L&L was considered by many to be only worthy of demolition, and even the local Historic Preservation Board assumed that it must be torn down.  High Plains Architects insisted that the building could be salvaged, and now it is now a key contributor to activity on Minnesota Avenue. The Swift Building Lofts project turned another refrigerated warehouse into loft apartments and is LEED® Platinum certified, as well as listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

High Plains also assisted in the nomination for the Old Town Historic District, which includes most of Minnesota Avenue's historic buildings. The District was established in 2011, making it easier for contributing buildings to apply for Historic Tax Credit assistance. Historic Tax Credits were a major piece of the financing for the One South Broadway, L&L Building, Klos Building, and the Swift Building projects.

Building projects are a significant piece of the whole movement; however, a few minor improvements to the streetscape have begun to make a difference as well. Flower planters, new sidewalks, and improved storefronts have all made the street more inviting and pedestrian friendly. A streetscape master plan, completed by High Plains, has begun to be implemented and will dramatically improve upon these initial enhancements. Additionally, bike lanes along a number of blocks of the street have increased the safety and viability of bicycle transportation.

Another key component is a connection to the now thriving Montana Avenue district. After over a decade of development, an exciting pedestrian bridge project over the railroad tracks is fully designed. The 25th Street Bridge project would allow pedestrians and bicyclists to safely cross the railroad tracks. The bridge would not only create a functional connection but would be an energizing landmark for the downtown area and would undoubtedly take the 'Minnesota Revolution' to a whole new level of excitement. Further renovation projects are in the works, alongside features such as a new café, gym, and office project, all continuing with the revitalization effort.

Lastly, nearly all the team members at High Plains have participated on various downtown boards and civic leadership groups.  This not only helps us stay engaged and up to date on current developments but also provides us with yet another way to make a positive contribution to our community.

Before the Project

High Plains Architects has completed over 60 feasibility studies, investigating the issues and opportunities for projects ranging from 2,000 square foot commercial tenants up to a 70,000 square foot hotel conversion. Feasibility studies typically investigate different design options that would satisfy the spatial and functional needs of the client, building code considerations, preliminary construction cost estimates, and information about programs that are relevant to the project, such as grants or tax credit programs. In the case of an existing building renovation or addition, the study also provides the opportunity to document, draw, and inventory the existing building and its relevant components.

A feasibility study is helpful when a client has a need for space but is unsure about the scope of the project. Questions about financing, building code restrictions, and spatial arrangement and programming conflicts can be addressed prior to proceeding into a formal design process. Many of our successful projects began with a feasibility study, including the Oliver Building and Home on the Range projects.

Please contact us for more information or to discuss conducting a feasibility study for your potential project.

Smart Planning

Master planning is the necessary process for large entities, such as universities and municipalities, to establish a vision for future growth. It involves intense coordination of relevant stakeholders, financial restrictions, physical and geographic conditions, and organizational goals to create a successful plan. Notable master planning efforts conducted by High Plains Architects include a community library master plan for MSU-Billings & the City of Billings and a streetscape master plan for Minnesota Avenue, as well as the Exposition Gateway Master Plan (co-led with LMN Architects.)

Principal architect Randy Hafer has broad urban planning experience including serving on many downtown, development, and planning boards, co-sponsoring a major urban design conference in Billings, developing a streetscape improvement master plan, and work on downtown improvement plans. These projects involved a wide-range of strategies, procedures, solutions, and deliverables, such as zoning regulations, building codes, local policies, landscape and streetscape improvements, and transportation infrastructure.

Most importantly, Randy’s long history with urban planning, large project development, tax credit syndication, and adaptive reuse has continually improved his ability to coordinate with and understand the issues of public, private, and community stakeholders. This ability to understand a particular client's needs, a key aspect of the urban planning process, is essential to developing master plans that can sustain and succeed.

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