Commissioners steered $200,000 in Hard Rock economic development money to the planned $35 million Praxis medical training center in Butte Wednesday night.
The approval takes mine-tax revenue from the Hard Rock fund down to zero, or very close to it, officials said, but some commissioners said before the meeting that the allocation was a “slam dunk” anyway.
That’s because the project is expected to create 70 new jobs, bring 3,000 to 4,000 doctors, nurses, EMTs and others here each year to receive training, and deliver a big economic boost to Butte and its Uptown.
Commissioners approved the allocation on a voice vote with no dissents and no debate. That hasn’t been the case with all allocations.
Chief Executive Dave Palmer said the center “was going to be an excellent project for Butte and all of southwest Montana,” and Commissioners Brendan McDonough and Cindy Perdue-Dolan thanked those behind the project.
By law, Hard Rock money can be used for a variety of economic development purposes, including diversifying the economy and attracting new businesses.
Commissioner Cindi Shaw, after the meeting, said allocating the money for the Praxis Center was an easy decision.
"This was a textbook case of how the Hard Rock funds were designed to be used - creating new infrastructure in our central business district and new job positions, neither of which will be in direct competition with existing companies," she said.
Butte natives Pat Dudley and Ray Rogers, co-founders of the National Center for Health Care Informatics, announced their plans for the Praxis Center for Innovative Learning on Monday.
The four-story complex at Park and Arizona streets Uptown will include the nation’s first independently owned, nonprofit medical simulation facility dedicated to rural health care.
If things go as planned, construction will start next year and the center will open in 2020. Mountain Plains Equity Group of Billings will finance most of the project, but some grants and outside funding are being sought, including the Hard Rock money.
The funds come from the county’s Hard Rock Mine Trust Account, which gets revenue from a portion of taxes mine operators pay the state. The money only becomes spendable when there’s a big mining shutdown or major mine layoffs, and it must be spent on economic development.
When Montana Resources suspended mine operations in Butte in 2000, $4 million in the trust fund became available to spend. The money can earn interest, but Wednesday’s allocation is essentially the last of the $4 million.
Commissioners have made several allotments in the past 15 months, including:
• $50,000 in December 2016 to John and Courtney McKee for their project to use the Kelley Mine Yard for their Headframe Spirits packaging, storing and still-manufacturing and ultimately expand operations.
• $200,000 in March 2017 to owners of the Clarion Inn Copper King Hotel and Convention Center to help them offset cost-overruns. That passed by the slimmest of margins — a 6-5 vote — since it was on top of $200,000 in Hard Rock money the major overhaul project got the year before.
• $75,000 in July 2017 to help Montana City Brew build a new coffee shop on Harrison Avenue just south of Interstates 15-90.
• $200,000 last November to help the owners of Ace Hardware in Butte build a new, bigger store just north of the Holiday Inn Express.