Gov. Bullock nominates 25 areas for Opportunity Zone designation, including one in Great Falls

Of the four areas nominated by Great Falls, one was selected for nomination by Gov. Steve Bullock.

The governor was able to nominate 25 areas of Montana for designation as an Opportunity Zone, based on areas proposed by communities for consideration.

The federal Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 established a new economic development program called Opportunity Zones designed to encourage long-term private investment in low-income communities. The program provides a federal tax incentive for taxpayers who reinvest unrealized capital gains into “Opportunity Funds,” which are specialized investment vehicles dedicated to certain low-income areas called “Opportunity Zones.”

The areas considered for Opportunity Zones were census tracts with a poverty rate of 20 percent or more. Statewide, there were 106 tracts meeting that criteria but the federal government limited Montana to identifying just 25 for the designation.

“We asked cities, towns, counties, tribes and economic development organizations to nominate areas that are most likely to realize development which benefits communities,” Bullock said in a release. “I’m confident that the final zones I’ve nominated to the U.S. Treasury Department represent both high-needs communities and areas that are ripe for investment in rural and urban corners of our state.”

The Montana Department of Commerce will assist communities in areas where census tracts were not nominated by continuing conversation based on the information and indications of the needs in those communities and the resources that may be available.

The area selected in Great Falls is the northern side of the downtown core, from the northside of 1st Avenue South to the river and east to 10th Street.

“It’s a good chance for the city and the county to provide incentives,” that don’t impact their budgets, said Craig Raymond, city planning director, during a recent joint city-county commission work session.

Brett Doney of the Great Falls Development Authority said during last week’s Downtown Development Partnership meeting that the program could help attract new development to the area, though there’s no public timeline on when the federal government will release the rules for the program.

The financing tool has the potential to direct private capital toward distressed communities and serve as a catalyst for long-term, inclusive economic development. This may include downtown revitalization, workforce development, affordable housing, infrastructure, and business startup and expansion.

The other areas recommended by the Great Falls team include census tract 16, which encompasses the West Bank area and county fairgrounds; census tract 7, which includes the downtown area; and census tract 21, the commercial corridor on 10th Avenue South, MedTech and the areas of medical and higher education campuses.