In the hopes of providing West Yellowstone with a more stable economic base than tourism, a local nonprofit organization has purchased a building to be used by visiting researchers and students.

Officials with the nonprofit West Yellowstone Economic Development Council Inc., or WYED, signed the papers on an 11,500-square-foot building Dec. 15.

At least 200 researchers are permitted to conduct research within Yellowstone National Park each year, and the facility will serve as a sort of base for their work, said Sam Korsmoe, WYED's executive director.

"For the community, it's a chance at a year-round economy," Korsmoe said.

In addition, the goal is to house the Yellowstone Studies Center, a Greater Yellowstone region education project. Glenn Hales, president of WYED, said the hope is that universities will use the facility to conduct accredited classes, perhaps basing a six- to eight-week block class in West Yellowstone.

Several Montana universities, as well as universities in Indiana and Georgia, have expressed strong interest in using the space, Korsmoe and Hale said.

"For the past year, we have been developing the Yellowstone Studies Center project and it was time to truly kick-start that project rather than to keep talking about it and to do so it needed a home base," Hales said in a prepared statement. "This building is a perfect fit."

The building is largely being financed with donations from Clyde and Linda Seely, long-term West Yellowstone residents. The Seelys made an initial $100,000 donation for the building's down payment, and have pledged to make half its annual payments over the next four years.

"The Yellowstone Studies Center project is an excellent first step towards more formal and accredited degree programs to take place in West Yellowstone," Clyde Seely said. "That's been our dream for a long time. With the progress we've made over the past year, it made perfect sense to step up at this time to help WYED buy the building."

WYED is seeking donations for the other half of the annual payments. Hales said the building should be paid off in four years.

The facility, to be called the WYED Center, is at the corner of Electric Street and U.S. Highway 20. It will include office space, classrooms, laboratories, storage, board rooms and meeting rooms.

Korsmoe said many researchers currently work out of tents, hotels, cars and trailers. With this facility, they'll be able to do field research more efficiently.

"Our goal is to make the Yellowstone Studies Center the most important learning center in the world for anything and everything to do with the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem," he said in a news release. "It all starts in this new building."

Carly Flandro can be reached at 582-2638 or cflandro@dailychronicle.com.