Downtown in need of more pedlet grant applications

The newly expanded pedlet program is lacking applicants in Great Falls.

Mighty Mo and Enbar are the two pedlets currently open in downtown Great Falls and only Enbar is using the newly available grant funding through the Business Improvement District.

Applications are due June 30.

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Joan Redeen, community director for the BID, told the Downtown Development Partnership this week that she’s mentioned to the BID board that they need to look at the program and consider ways to make it more successful, which might include revamping the grant program.

She said one major misconception among businesses downtown is that Mighty Mo’s pedlet was free to the brewery.

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The initial pedlet that first opened last summer was funded in part by Montana Main Street grant funds, NeighborWorks Great Falls and the Great Falls Business Improvement District.

The pedlet grant program will fund up to 50 percent of the cost of a pedlet up to $5,000, Redeen said.

So far, the cost of a pedlet has ranged from $7,000 to $12,000, Redeen said.

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The BID received an $8,000 grant from the Montana Main Street Program to formalize the city’s pedlet program.

The BID kicked in another $15,000; Great Falls Montana Tourism added $5,000 and the Downtown Development Partnership added $2,000 for a total of $30,000 in available grant money to help businesses who want to add pedlets cover the initial costs, Redeen told The Electric earlier this spring.

Shane Etzweiler, head of the Great Falls Area Chamber of Commerce, asked if it would help to create funding options for the downtown businesses, such as fully funding a pedlet, or maintaining them for businesses.

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Brett Doney of the Great Falls Development Authority said 50 percent is plenty and that the DDP can’t take ownership of the pedlets since that creates storage, maintenance and other issues. The DDP is a group of representatives from downtown group, but doesn’t have full-time staff or office space.

Staffing and security has been a concern for some downtown eateries that have considered pedlets, Doney said.

“We’ve emphasized that it’s more than a few thousand bucks to whack some boards together,” he said, but they can be good for business.

When Mighty Mo’s pedlet first opened, it was a magnet for panhandlers, but the brewery added staff outside and the problem subsided. The brewery saw a 20 percent increase in sales while the pedlet was open and was able to hire more staff for the season.

There have been some complaints about the pedlets taking up parking spaces, but those spaces are directly in front of the business using it and the business pays a fee for using those spaces.

Craig Raymond, city planning director, said people are used to things being a certain way downtown but if there is continued success with pedlets and residential rental units, the demand for parking will continue to grow.

Both Raymond and Doney said that while pedlets have been successful for businesses so far, the group can’t force a business to open one.

Doney cautioned that if a business isn’t committed to making a pedlet successful, it could backfire and cause other problems.