Sletten Construction based in Great Falls will be the primary builder of the planned Uptown parking garage, and construction on the $6-million to $7-million building could begin as early as March.
A county committee recommended Sletten over Helena-based Dick Anderson Construction, and the Urban Revitalization Agency board approved the choice Wednesday. Commissioners will be asked to sign off on the plan by allowing Chief Executive Matt Vincent to sign an agreement with Sletten.
For the first time, the county is utilizing a state and locally authorized way of choosing builders that does not require the lowest bidder to get the contract. The idea is to get builders involved in the project earlier, in part to avoid cost overruns.
Sletten will be the main builder but also will manage the project. Under the process, it will seek bids for contracting out parts of the work.
Unlike the traditional bidding process, when a firm tells the county how much it will charge for an entire project up front, Sletten will estimate costs at different phases of design work and give maximum amounts it will charge.
It's too early to say now what the overall price tag will be, officials say, but they believe it will fall between $6 million and $7 million.
Officials and URA board members who took part in the interviewing process said both companies are well qualified.
As envisioned now, the garage would have 247 parking spaces and four levels — five, counting part of the top that would continue slanting upward.
Sletten will submit maximum charges for the various parts of the project.
The garage will be financed with bonds backed by revenue from the newly drawn tax-increment financing district covering much of Uptown Butte. Property taxes from new developments in such areas are captured so they can be spent in those areas.
Expected revenue from parking fees will go toward ongoing maintenance of the garage and not be part of the financing package.
Community Development Director Karen Byrnes said a local bank expressed interest in being the sole entity that buys the bonds, and out of fairness, officials also are discussing that possibility with two additional local banks.
The committee that evaluated proposals from the two construction companies included Byrnes, Vincent, other county officials, URA Board members Bob Brown and Bob Worley, and private architects and consultants who have done preliminary work.
Brown said many U.S. citizens are by nature skeptical and cynical about politics and government, suggesting they might frown on the non-bid process used for this project. He said he, too, is often a cynic but was pleasantly surprised.
“This is probably the most substantive thing I have done since I have been on this board,” he said. “The level of discourse and the amount of information is like nothing I have seen before.”
Byrnes said the Emma Park Neighborhood Center, 25 W. Silver St., which cost at least $2.4 million, used a similar process under federal laws and guidelines. It got the largest share of funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The URA also provided funding, which allowed Byrnes to see how the process worked for that building. She suggested the county explore policies on when to pursue projects this way and when the traditional bidding process is better.
Byrnes said parking overall is a service for the public and not meant to be a money-making venture for the county. Council Chairwoman Cindi Shaw agreed.
“The best it will do is be in the red,” Shaw said.