The City of Great Falls has secured a $20,000 grant through the Montana Main Street Program.
“We’ve had some good success downtown, but we want to keep that momentum going,” Great Falls Development Authority president Brett Doney said.
Previously, the grant has been used to fund outdoor dining through the pedlet program.
“Downtown is all about getting people to eat, shop, work, entertain and live downtown. We could have a mix of housing type projects, of more entertainment, of artisan lofts. It could be a whole different mix of ideas,” Doney said.
This year, the grant money will be used toward a marketing effort.
“A lot of downtowns have had great success in not just looking at an individual property but looking at an entire half block and coming up with some development concepts. Both from an architectural and a business standpoint. And then using those visions as a marketing tool to go to real estate developers, entrepreneurs, existing businesses and saying ‘hey, why don’t you take a look at this,” Doney said.
The Great Falls Development Authority put out a request for proposals and received six, both locally and nationally.
“It was really hard to pick the team because all six were great proposals from excellent teams with a lot of downtown development experience,” Doney said.
The team went with L’Heureux Page Werner Architecture of Great Falls.
“Now we’re in the process of going out to property owners and talking. We don’t want to put a big investment into a block if there’s no interest in the property owners to implement or sell. As soon as we finalize the selection of the three blocks, the consultant team will do some baseline research of those blocks,” Doney said.
The end-goal is to put together a marketing plan that will encourage not only development but "contagious success," according to Doney.
“It could be we get a developer, or we get a business interested in our downtown and they don’t end up in that half block, this is really a marketing exercise to attract more investment and more businesses downtown,” Doney said. “The businesses are not necessarily competing with each other. Success breathes success. I think the more excitement we can have, the more successful businesses, that attracts more businesses and also it attracts more real estate investment. Because of the progress we’ve made the last few years, I think there’s a lot of excitement downtown.”
Doney said the three blocks are not confirmed so the team is waiting to announce publicly which three are selected.
“If it’s historically sensitive or a significant property, absolutely we are going to want a development that preserves and celebrates that history,” Doney said. “There could be other properties that aren’t significant that we want high-quality development. There could be blocks that need new construction. The vision cold be very modern but it’s that high quality of development that we want so we have a very vibrant downtown.”
Doney says they plan to hold a meeting to get public input in a few weeks.
“This will be kind of working and brainstorming ideas and what we can do with these different blocks. It’s a much more effect marketing mechanism to have some content that interests them. Even if they say that it’s garbage, it gets them engaged,” Doney said. “We’ve had a number of very successful, both real estate projects and businesses downtown. Some of which have been there for many years and continue to be successful. Some of which are brand new and some of which are going to open in the next couple of weeks. It’s pretty exciting what’s going on.”