Loser Out

In the midst of a conflicts of interest plague, Great Falls seems relegated to loser out status in the tournament of economic development in our state.

Why has Great Falls lost population, manufacturing jobs and a brighter outlook for the future? Certainly, Great Falls Development Authority chief Brett Doney’s stated solution to the problem: “we must recruit and retain young talent” is true. But how do we accomplish this feat?

I think we would all recognize that we cannot win without a team effort and without a level playing field.

When arbiters and decision makers in in our City Commission and School District willfully allow themselves to determine the direction of the City based upon relationships, bias, and mediocrity, they establish a culture that undermines innovation and makes it impossible to establish an environment that attracts and retains talent. In other words, talent attracts talent, opportunity attracts innovation, and no amount of open space, urban trails, great schools, or recreational opportunities can supply sufficient motivation for new talent to immigrate to, return to, or to stay in Great Falls.

“In other words, talent attracts talent, opportunity attracts innovation, and no amount of open space, urban trails, great schools, or recreational opportunities can supply sufficient motivation for new talent to immigrate to, return to, or to stay in Great Falls.”

The truth is that Great Falls was built and succeeded based upon innovation and its decline can only be reversed with a new focus on innovation. If founder Paris Gibson returned to Great Falls, he would surely say that his successors have “dropped the ball”.


It is interesting to note that when you ask young people what they would like to see happen in Great Falls they often say “more big-name concerts and events”. We are lacking a venue that can compete with the Billings Metra for concerts and events. We lose double A tournaments to the Metra. We lose conventions to the Metra. We lose big-name concerts to the Metra. We lose national political events and rallies to the Metra. Great Falls is Loser Out and we are falling further and further behind Billings, Bozeman, Missoula, Kalispell, and Helena.


If we want to get back in the game we need to build an events venue that will seat more than the 12,500 seat Metra, say 25,000 seats. A venue that would accommodate multiple sports and events. A venue that is sensitive to our climate. A venue that is the best in Montana.

That venue is the Electra Arena!


Posted by Philip M. Faccenda

Philip M. Faccenda is an AIA award-winning architect and planner. He is the Editor-in-Chief of E-City Beat.

Reader interactions

12 Replies to “Loser Out”

  1. Heather Hammonds March 27, 2018 at 4:41 PM

    Holy tights, Batman! When I saw the headline, before I read the post, my first thought was “at least, somebody from the new millennium as a fair concert.”. We have the venues…..rob zombie played at the fairgrounds (whatever the building, I don’t bother with the fair cuz IT HAS NO NEW MUSIC), and he’s pretty damn big. Maybe something NOT country or so old and half dead (sorry my friends of the 60s, but those guys and gals sound like they’re half starved and choking on gravel, now adays). Please, don’t get me wrong, I love Pat Benetars (?) music. From way back when. And I’m 47. I know enough about the world to know that the only way you keep young people interested, is to engage them with music. And technology. Mustn’t forget technology. So, hire a 23yr old to help restructure our failing fair system. Get a 20something on the planning board. Maybe even 2 or 3 with opposing views. It’s so easy to be cool-ish. Just ask the young people.


  2. Great minds think alike!

    I’ll go you one better. Tear down the grandstand and old barns at the fairgrounds. Create a public (city/county), edu (UP) and private (Benefis? Pacific?) partnership and build your dome big enough to include a football field. Rumor has it that UP would like to add football, and how great would it be to have our own Frontier Conference NAIA school? Northern, Western, Rocky, you name it. It would be a great venue. High school football playoffs, dual basketball courts, you name it. Rodeo, horse racing…

    Oh yeah, and concerts! Can it be done, Phil? I just don’t know if we could ever find that kind of community support/money.


  3. This venue would be able to support multiple sports; football, soccer, basketball, volleyball as well as concerts??


  4. Yes you would have a venue but young ppl leave cause our town has constantly pushed away great restaurants too. Where’s the olive gardens and red lobsters and other nice places that Billings and Missoula bring in to attract ppl to come and stay? Also they support the venues after the concerts and sporting events. They grow and we just sustain the normal. Town would shrivel up and almost die if the base was closed up. Wake up leaders


    1. Why is everyone so obsessed with getting a Red Lobster or Olive Garden here? They truly are not that great. Would rather support unique, locally owned, operated and sustained restaurants or farm to table establishments rather than more chains.


  5. What you said Rachel…….


  6. The young folks don’t leave because of lack of restaurants, entertainment venues, sports teams, etc. They leave to work. They’ve got to make a living and they can’t do it here. We’ve got little economic base in Great Falls. We’ve got very little industry and manufacturing and no tech, mainly nothing but the base and Benefis and whether the base survives or thrives is out of our local control. It is dependent upon whether the feds continue to support their mission and that changes with each administration. It’s not unheard of for a base to be shut down. If MAFB was decommissioned, we’d be in a world of hurt.

    Without an diverse and healthy economic base, you can’t support all those things that everyone here seems to want. You can’t compare Missoula, Billings or Bozeman to Great Falls. Missoula and Bozeman both have significantly large student populations to help support those towns, along with other industries. Billings has, I believe, three refineries; a huge sugar beet processing facility; is a major shipping and transportation hub both in rail and over the road; has four colleges including Montana State University-Billings, Rocky Mountain College and University of Mary and MSU-Billings College of Technology; and is a regional hub for medical and agriculture.

    Building a huge arena thinking it will help solve Great Falls financial woes is absurd. It’s not an industry. It would be nice to have here but only if there’s a way to support it and currently, I don’t see that in Great Falls. Folks can’t buy major act tickets on minimum wages. Folks need to get off the “Field of Dreams” bandwagon. It’s not a matter of build it and they will come, or even stay.


  7. Philip M. Faccenda March 28, 2018 at 1:10 PM

    Jeni, The piece did not state that I believed a “huge” events center would solve what’s wrong with Great Falls. The REAL reason for the decline of the Great Falls economy is what was stated; “When arbiters and decision makers in in our City Commission and School District willfully allow themselves to determine the direction of the City based upon relationships, bias, and mediocrity, they establish a culture that undermines innovation and makes it impossible to establish an environment that attracts and retains talent.” The question is, what will GF look like in 20 years? Creativity is not without its attendant difficulties, for peculiarity breeds contempt and the unfortunate thing about being ahead of your time is that when people finally realize you were right , they will say it was obvious all along. But then it may be too late.


  8. Great Falls decision makers stifle growth based on relationships and biases, yes I would most definitely agree with that. Local government favors certain people in their businesses while others–not so much. Great Falls is also behind in trends and cultural changes (as in struggling to maintain two municipal golf courses when trends show that millennials are not that interested in golf so maybe we should rethink our priorities).

    But from talking with folks who have left Great Falls, it wasn’t because we don’t have an Olive Garden or major concert venue. They couldn’t afford to live here because of low wages and lack of career opportunities. Yes, a concert venue as you’ve detailed would be awesome, and yes, maybe folks could get the money together to build it, but once it’s built, there’s maintenance and other factors to consider in keeping it going. It also cost lots of mullah to bring major name acts to town.

    The city got behind in capital maintenance for our parks and now it’s looking like we’re going to be taxed because of the city’s deferred park maintenance. We support, with our tax money, muni golf courses that are over a million dollars in debt and that situation gets worse each year. The Civic Center is in need of millions in repairs. The Nat always seems to cost a lot to maintain.

    What I don’t want to see is yet another burden to the taxpayers, who are already strapped, for operation costs and maintenance of a city or county-owned or operated events center. The city in particularly has a history of not being run efficiently and business-like. It’s been tax and spend with no accountability. You may be able to afford yet another tax burden but I, and quite a few others, cannot. If a non-government entity builds it, operates it and maintains it, fine, then I have no argument with it. I’m all for private business enterprises.

    What will GF look like in 20 years? About the same as it does now or worse because GF is mostly anti-business. That hasn’t changed in the 20+ years I’ve been here. Whenever a business wants to comes in or expand, there are always a bunch of griping people trying to stop it. For example, the egg plant. All I hear from people about it is negative–griping about it just because Hutterites built it. What’s with all the apparent hatred of Hutterites anyway? I’ve seen no problems with the egg plant and I live near by. There’s some increased truck traffic, but maybe its good to have those truckers come and spend some money here buying fuel and food. Sure the Hutterites are benefitting economically but what’s wrong with that if the city also sees some economic impact from having it in town?

    Another example, M & D was shot down for their permit. There are other industrial-type operations a few block away, but that didn’t matter. Apparently, M & D isn’t in the crony loop. If it were owned by certain other entities in town, I believe there would have been no problem.


  9. I see business burden with certain amount of grass, tree and other landscapes has to be put before they can even reach a settlement to where they can start building!
    I see roads being redone over and over again, instead of going to a new project that needs worked on!
    Oh, my favorite, we need to study the projects goals several times over before we can say yes or no! Which cost more money for the case study to be done because it lasted several years! Then it never gets done because the money is gone! Wasted!!
    This city needs to stop putting a lot of…these needs to be done before you can do that! Well “this” chases that business away to another city in Montana! And sometimes to another state! Just so tired of new jobs not coming here to Great Falls!


    1. I’d agree with you about the studies. It often seems the city of Great Falls loves to pay consultants $$$$ for studies to tell us what we already know or is just common sense.


  10. Great Falls is great for chasing people away! Look at the fair! The gate prices are getting too high that larger families don’t come! Vendors are getting less because of the fees to rent! And I don’t blame them! We use to go to the fair at least 4-5 times, now we just go one day, not worth the $7 gate charge just to get in! Just thing..doing the math…say 4 days, 2 people, and $5 gate fee, that’s $40 that we paid over all. Now with the fee being $7, we come one day, that’s only $14 that the fair made! Hmmm, makes you wonder what the price should be!?


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