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Community forum in Great Falls will focus on downtown development

The night will include free pizza and will focus on three blocks of downtown
Posted at 1:10 PM, Sep 30, 2019
and last updated 2019-10-01 12:03:02-04

GREAT FALLS — Great Falls development officials are looking for input from residents at a community conversation this week.

Organizations including the Great Falls Development Authority and the Downtown Development Partnership are hosting a "Visioning Charrette" (community forum) on Wednesday.

The night will include free pizza and will focus on three blocks in downtown that have potential for private development.

The proposed blocks are home to locations including Tracy's Diner, Dragonfly Dry Goods, and the parking lot on 1st Avenue South between 2nd Street and 3rd Street.

"We're looking at what could be on these blocks,” said GFDA Vice President Jolene Schalper. “We've talked to the owners of all the properties who are also participating and we want to get some ideas from the general public on 'What do you want in downtown Great Falls? What do you want it to look like?’”

The conversation takes place Wednesday from 5:30-7:00 p.m. in the Missouri Room at the Civic Center, located at 2 Park Drive South.

Organizers will announce the results of the visioning in around a month.

After that, they'll work to present ideas to developers.

(AUGUST 14, 2019) 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.”

The Facebook Event page states:

  • What's a Charrette, your might ask? Think of it as a high-energy brainstorming session.
  • We have identified blocks in downtown Great Falls that we believe have the most untapped potential. But what they become, that's what YOU get to decide.
  • Join Neighbors, Developers, Property Owners, Resource Providers, and more on Wednesday, October 2nd for a visioning session on what we hope our downtown can be! We will focus our efforts on blocks that are ready to transform! Pizza and non-alcoholic beverages will be provided. Please RSVP so we know how much to bring!