HELENA – The City of Helena took a step forward Monday in creating an urban renewal district (URD) downtown, paving the wave for new development and renovations.
The Helena City Commission unanimously approved a “Statement of Blight” that said a blighted area exists downtown. According to the city, the passage of the resolution will result in the creation of an Urban Renewal Plan. According to Montana state law, a blighted area can be anywhere that is “conducive to ill health, transmission of disease, infant mortality, juvenile delinquency, and crime, that substantially impairs or arrests the sound growth of the city or its environment, that retards the provision of housing accommodations, or that constitutes an economic or social liability or is detrimental or constitutes a menace to the public health, safety, welfare, and morals in its present condition and use.”
Last November, the city hired WGM Group, Inc. to study the downtown area and determine if there are enough issues that it could be considered a blighted area. According to the state, there are fifteen factors that make an area blighted. If three of those factors are met, an Urban Renewal District can be considered. WGN determined downtown Helena met nine of the fifteen criteria.
The consultants found a number of problems. WGM reports many buildings in downtown Helena are outdated and deteriorating. Others lack modern infrastructure and do not meet fire safety and building code requirements.
“Downtown cores, just like any property, need continuous attention to retain them in good condition. It has been nearly 50 years since the last round of urban renewal projects was initiated in downtown and 15-20 years since most of the projects were completed,” the WGM report said.
A 2016 study found just 41 percent of respondents said downtown Helena is a vibrant place with many people and activities.
If approved, the Urban Renewal District would be funded through Tax-Increment Financing (TIF). TIF allows portions of tax revenue from downtown properties to go towards redevelopment.
The Helena business improvement district said it supports the city’s decision to approve downtown as a blighted area.
“The urban renewal district zoning, any of those types of things that take place will be impactful to the Helena Business Improvement District,” Micky Zucher, Executive Director for the BID, said.
Zucher said the hope for the BID is that the URD will improve property assessments for those who own property in downtown Helena.
You can read all of WGM’s findings here.