Montana Main Street Program

Dana White makes his way through the Downtown Walking Mall Friday afternoon. After applying to the Montana Main Street Program, the city of Helena will receive $10,000 toward the creation of a downtown master plan to revitalize and redevelop the downtown area. 

Thom Bridge, Independent Record

Helena is one of five applicants that will receive state funds toward efforts to revitalize and redevelop their communities.

Allison Mouch, the planning bureau chief with the Community Development Division of the state Department of Commerce, said on Tuesday that Helena applied to the Montana Main Street Program and will be awarded $10,000.

The application, submitted by the city and its Helena Business Improvement District, had sought $15,000 toward creation of a downtown master plan.

“This is the seed money,” said Tracy Reich, the executive director of Helena’s Business Improvement District.

Montana Main Street Program funds, along with a $3,000 match from the Business Improvement District, will help initiate the process and begin a dialogue with the public that will include visioning of what people would like the downtown to become.

The overall process to create a master plan, she noted, is being budgeted at $60,000.

Additional funding, perhaps in the $25,000 to $35,000 range, is anticipated to be sought by the city from a Community Development Block Grant. Additional matching funds from the Business Improvement District and other sources of funding are anticipated to complete the overall cost of the master planning process.

Requests for proposals could soon be sought to have a consultant hired in March for the process that Reich said would be completed by the end of this year.

“This is a comprehensive look at what downtown is today and what it might be tomorrow,” she said, explaining that “tomorrow” could be in five to 20 years.

Public input will be important, especially as the process begins, Reich said.

There is an emphasis on preserving the downtown’s historic heritage while also allowing it to grow and be contemporary, she added.

Montana Main Street Program grants are intended to help focus on more comprehensive efforts toward community development -- redevelopment and revitalization, Mouch said.

“There is no magic bullet, silver bullet to fix a downtown,” she added.

Revitalization has to be a multifaceted approach, she explained, that looks at issues such as housing, infrastructure, accessibility and transportation, among others.

“It really is looking comprehensively at the big picture," she said. 

In all, 11 communities applied to the state for funding. In addition to Helena, Mouch said, also selected to receive state funds were Kalispell, which will receive $15,000; Anaconda-Deerlodge, $10,000; Dillon, $10,000; and Thompson Falls, $6,000. The grants are typically $10,000.

The program has $50,000 in grants, and Mouch described it as “a small but mighty program so we try to make our dollars go as far as they can.”

She was surprised that Helena didn’t have a master plan and said, “As the capital city, we should kind of be leading the charge.”

Notice of funding that was sent to the applicants allows them to begin work on the projects that had been proposed for the funding.

Reich was to meet with Sharon Haugen, Helena’s Community Development Department director, on Tuesday afternoon to discuss moving the process forward.

The Montana Main Street Program was established in 2005 and serves 24 communities statewide, its webpage stated.

The program is a collaboration between the Community Development Division and the Montana Office of Tourism at the state Department of Commerce.

The Montana Main Street Program helps communities strengthen and preserve their historic downtown commercial districts by focusing on economic development, urban revitalization and historic preservation through long-range planning, organization, design and promotion, the webpage noted.

Al Knauber can be reached at al.knauber@helenair.com

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I am a staff writer at the Independent Record covering primarily city and county governments.

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