GREAT FALLS — A recent report by the Downtown Great Falls Development partnership painted a pretty picture of the present and future of Downtown Great Falls.
In 2019, the city saw an 10,000 hour increase in volunteer hours from 2018, rising up to more than 42,000 hours. Additionally, more than $8 million was invested in the renovation and rehabilitation of downtown buildings, up from $3.1 million in 2018. To top it off, at least 13 new businesses opened up downtown, creating over 30 new jobs.
“I’ve been downtown here for quite a while now, and I just feel like we’re constantly working to make things better, and every day is a new day, and it gets better all the time,” said Joan Redeen, the Community Director for the Great Falls Business Improvement District. “We do have businesses close, that’s the reality. Businesses have an ebb and a flow to them, but the same things happen in all the other communities, and our downtown is a fantastic downtown, and Great Falls has a lot to be proud of with what we do down here.”
While it wasn’t the sole factor in the rise of volunteer hours, Joan said that the Montana BrewFest coming to Great Falls last June certainly helped.
“One big change for us this year is that the Downtown Association in 2019 hosted the Craft Beer Week and Montana BrewFest, and so that BrewFest contributed greatly to our volunteer hours Downtown,” she explained. “I think that was one of the big changes for us. Certainly it didn’t equate to 10,000 volunteer hours, but it definitely helped. We also have some new organizations that were utilizing volunteers for the first time and so we included those hours as well, but we did have a 10,000 hour jump. It was a great jump from 2018 to 2019.”
The $8 million figure, which is actually closer to $9 million (presented by the Development Partnership as “over $8.8 million”), represents any project that is within the Downtown Master Plan boundaries. The boundaries are River Drive N to 15th St N (East to West), and 5th Ave N to 5th Ave S (North to South). That comes out to 687.4 acres, or 1.07 square miles. Any project that goes to the city for a permit to do any type od construction is included in that number.
“Great Falls is the highest level of community for the state of Montana,” said Redeen when asked how Downtown Great Falls works with the Montana Main Street program. “We’re a certified member, there’s only three communities in the state that are at that high level. We’re at the accredited level for the national Main Street program. The Main Street program is a pillar program and so we follow those pillars, and those pillars are promotion, which is the Downtown Association; design, which is myself with the Business Improvement District; and economic development, which is Great Falls Development Authority. We model that program and follow and work those three pillars.”
As for how you can get involved and contribute to those rising volunteer hours and help downtown Great Falls grow, the best ways are to ask the Downtown Association where they need volunteers. Their office is located at 318 Central Avenue and they will always welcome people who are looking for opportunities to volunteer. You can call them at 406-453-6151 for more information. If you don’t have time to volunteer, the easiest way to support downtown is to shop local.