Public participates in creating vision for downtown Great Falls
Ideas for filling voids and driving development downtown were front and center during a visioning session last week.
The brainstorming event was part of micro visioning project for the downtown that is being funded through a $20,000 grant from the Montana Main Street Program.
The Great Falls Development Authority is spearheading the project and hired L’Heureux Page Warner Architecture and AE2S Communications as the design team.
The project is to create architectural drawings of what specific blocks could look like with new private development.
The project does not give money to any downtown property owners for improvements, merely creates the renderings that GFDA can then use to market to business owners, developers and others to help encourage them to invest in the downtown.
During the brainstorming session on Oct. 2, Brett Doney of GFDA asked the more than 50 participants to think about what’s missing from downtown that would complement what’s already there.
The three blocks selected were those that the downtown agencies thought had development potential and the property owners were willing to consider making private investments in those properties or selling to an entity that would.
The blocks selected for the visioning process are: the northside of the 100 block of Central Avenue; the southside of the 500 block of Central Avenue and the southside of the 200 block of 1st Avenue South, according to Brett Doney, director of the Great Falls Development Authority.
During the event, participants broke into three groups to brainstorm ideas and voted on their favorites.
Ideas were similar across the groups and included:
- indoor event space
- area for food trucks
- small grocery story
- updated unique hotels
- arcade/laser tag
- rooftop spaces for bars, restaurants, etc
The renderings can also be used to generate excitement in the downtown, Doney said.
More people living, eating and playing downtown can make it more attractive for continued development, he said.
When GFDA is working to recruit businesses to Great Falls, “downtown is seen as a barometer of the health of a town,” Doney said.
Tim Peterson, an architect with LPW, said the development strategies they’re using to drive their designs for a strong downtown are uniqueness, activating street life and considering a comprehensive vision.
“Great Falls already has unique places,” Peterson said. “That’s what we want to build on.”
He said when he came back to Great Falls in 1989, he worked downtown. He and coworkers would walk to lunch and rarely see other people.
Now, that’s changing and more people are on the streets during the day walking to lunch, coffee or drinks in the evening.
Caralina Carlson of LPW said during the presentation that activating street life creates more vitality and with more people downtown, which also creates a sense of security.
She said that’s already underway with the pedlets but there’s more opportunity. Ideas could include redesigning facades that open up but are still protected and create open space or covered, heated patios.
Now the design team will take the ideas from the brainstorming session and create renderings of the three blocks. Those will be presented in a public forum on Nov. 20.
Doney said that if people weren’t able to attend the brainstorming session but have ideas, they can email them to him at firstname.lastname@example.org or by taking the online survey.
Based on the ideas generated at the event, Doney said his team can also look to target those types of development to fill voids in downtown.
GFDA is hosting a similar brainstorming session on Oct. 10 at 6 p.m. for the area along 2nd Avenue North from Malmstrom Air Force Base to 57th Street North.
The event is at Loy Elementary and GFDA is asking neighbors and interested citizens to help plan the future of that area. This session is being funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency since they’re working on a brownfield assessment in the area.
Over the summer, the Great Falls Development Authority, on behalf of the Downtown Development Partnership, has released a request for proposals for the project, seeking a firm or team with downtown design and development experience for a Downtown Block Revisioning project in Great Falls through a grant with the Montana Main Street Program.
In January, Commerce announced that Great Falls was selected for a $20,000 grant through the Main Street Program, which supports the planning of economic development, urban revitalization and historic preservation projects.
The Great Falls grant is for a downtown micro visioning project, which involved studying individual blocks for development and revitalization projects.
The idea has been promoted by Brett Doney of GFDA for several years at the Downtown Development Partnership.
Doney said at Ignite Great Falls, a GFDA event in January, that the project would look at specific blocks to bring in outside developers and locals to come up with visions of “what could we do with these blocks?”
Some downtown blocks need new construction, while others need rehabilitation or revitalization, he said.
The Downtown Development Partnership of Great Falls, working in partnership with the City of Great Falls, secured a grant from the Montana Department of Commerce to fund this effort.
Key partners of the DDP are the city, GFDA, the Business Improvement District, the Downtown Great Falls Association, NeighborWorks Great Falls and the Great Falls Area Chamber of Commerce.
The DDP is an accredited National Main Street Program. GFDA leads the economic revitalization work of the DDP and is taking the lead on this project under a memorandum of understanding with the city, which is the official grant recipient.
“The goal of this project is to attract developers, businesses and entrepreneurs to invest in developing/occupying underutilized properties in downtown Great Falls. Ultimate uses of properties could include retail, dining, entertainment, office, housing or other,” according to a GFDA release.