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Great Falls officials discuss Downtown Master Plan

Posted at 3:22 PM, Dec 04, 2018
and last updated 2018-12-04 20:07:11-05

GREAT FALLS – The Downtown Master Plan is a nearly 80-page document comprised of collaborative efforts between various organizations and the City of Great Falls. Crafted in 2011 and adopted by the City Commission, the Downtown Master Plan is centered on the ideas of vitality, livability, character, and mobility.

Organizations, community members, and the city, worked together to define the plan, and carry it out. While the document is seven years old, the overarching theme and direction remain the same.

“There’s definitely some things we’ve been able to accomplish from the plan, definitely some things that we have not,” Craig Raymond, City of Great Falls Planning and Community Development Director, said. “Probably some things that we would reevaluate, whether we would even want to think about it anymore.”

“The master plan is built on a four pillar system including economic restructuring, design, organization, promotion,” explained Kellie Pierce, Downtown Great Falls Association Director.

The plan encompasses anything from vehicular to pedestrian circulation, beautification, events, art, business development, and housing.

“All those different elements really play into how vibrant our downtown or community feels to people,” said Raymond.

One hope for the future of downtown Great Falls is to better utilize of the second level of buildings.

“Occupy the larger buildings that are available. We are seeing some great movement with the Rocky Mountain building, Wells Fargo building, Strain building, those are all very large buildings in downtown that have development going on, or opportunity to see growth in the next couple of years,” Pierce explained.

Many upper levels sit empty right now, but have potential to be used for both residential spaces, and businesses. That, however, requires a lot of money and willingness from private developers.

“Depends on property owner and what they’re willing to put into it. A lot of that requires a ton of resources, and millions of dollars to renovate it, to get it structurally sound,” said Pierce.

Downtown leaders hope for continued development of larger building downtown, including the Rocky Mountain Building, which was destroyed by fire in 2009. An agency called Community Health Care Center has entered into a buy-sell agreement to purchase the building.

Figuring out the best parking plan for downtown continues to be assessed. Both parking garages are in need of major repairs and on Tuesday, December 4, the Parking Advisory Commission will present their recommendations on what should happen next with parking to the Great Falls City Commission.

The overarching focus though, remains on bringing business and vibrancy. Some of that, according to city leaders, depends on those who live in Great Falls to provide support.

“I do believe there’s a lot of really great things going on, if people focus, and think about it, and look for it,” expressed Raymond.

“We’ve done a fantastic job of making downtown more of a place on people’s radar in the last five years,” said Pierce.

Downtown leaders hope to implement what’s called “wayfinding” in 2019. Wayfinding involves, signage, apps, and more that help brand Downtown Great Falls, show people what’s available, and guide people where to go.

As far as development incentives, Raymond said there are options for people including low interest loans, unconventional loans, federal, state, and city tax credits, and more. He is working to develop a centralized spot online to provide links to resources and information.

Right now, the Planning and Community Development Office and Great Falls Development Authority serve as the main sources for information.

Click here to view the Downtown Master Plan.

Reporting by Shannon Newth for MTN News