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The Diocese of Helena has contracted with a development firm to build nearly 450,000 square feet of retail, commercial and hotel space near the Interstate 15 and Custer Street interchange.

Trinity Restoration LLC is offering retail sites in the future Trinity Center, located at the end of Sanders Street on property owned by the Resurrection Cemetery Association. Project plans include space for a hotel, restaurants, a movie theater, retail stores, landscaped parking, water features, a dog park and walking trails, according to the website www.trinitycenter.com.

The Trinity Center is being developed through the Diocese of Helena Deposit and Loan Restoration Trust as part of the Helena Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization. A federal bankruptcy judge approved the diocese’s plan in early March to compensate more than 360 alleged sexual abuse victims.

The diocese, which oversees more than 60 parishes and 35 missions across western Montana, was one of nearly a dozen dioceses to file for Chapter 11 over the last decade.

“What we’ve learned through bankruptcy and dealing with the sex abuse scandal is we’ve got to treat people humanely before protecting ourselves financially,” said Dan Bartleson, Diocese of Helena director of communication services. “With some peace it’s good for us to have some hope, and this Trinity project is the beginning of this hopeful future.”

The development is the beginning of a long-term goal of helping depositors recover lost funds, but Bartleson emphasized the development is only the start of the process following finalization of the bankruptcy in August.

“The Diocese of Helena is in the very tentative steps of a rebuilding process,” he said.

Proceeds will also go toward the care and maintenance of the cemeteries in Butte, Helena and Missoula operated by the Resurrection Cemetery Association. Although separate entities, the diocese and association have a shared interest and group of people, Bartleson said.

Bartleson did not know the business arrangement between the diocese and association or how revenues will be distributed, and a late call and email to the association’s director was not returned in time for this story.

The Diocese of Helena feels like the Trinity Center is a good plan for business in the Helena community, Bartleson said.

In developing the Trinity Center, Trinity Resources LLC conducted internal marketing and pricing analysis and commissioned a third party marketing and feasibility study, project site manager Tyler Wilkinson said in an email. With careful development and planning, the site is an ideal location given its proximity to Montana and Custer avenues and Interstate 15 for the commercial and retail development, he added.

“Trinity Center believes that the 90 acres now under planned development holds significant economic potential for the Helena area,” Wilkinson said.

When fully developed, Trinity Center could accommodate between 15 and 20 businesses, he said.

The first phase of Trinity Center will break ground next year, according to the website, but developers estimate it could take seven to 10 years to fully reach its economic potential, Wilkinson said. All development will be planned and phased in over that time, he added.

“Trinity Center is a long-term, family-oriented lifestyle commercial and retail development,” he said. “Consistent with that view, Trinity Center does not believe that merely selling off parcels to big box stores would be in the best interests of Trinity Center stakeholders, the Helena area or Helena area residents.”

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Reporter Tom Kuglin can be reached at 447-4076 or tom.kuglin@helenair.com

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Natural Resources Reporter

Natural Resources Reporter / Assistant Editor for The Independent Record.

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