Vision for a vibrant downtown Great Falls, microvisioning project designs unveiled
Ideas for what downtown Great Falls could be took center stage this week at the unveiling of the downtown microvisioning project.
Architects with L’Heureux Page Warner designed concepts for three blocks of downtown Great Falls based on feedback from an October brainstorming session.
“These are dreams,” said Tim Peterson, an architect with LPW. “We feel that Great Falls is already starting to have a unique downtown.”
The micro visioning project for the downtown is being funded through a $20,000 grant from the Montana Main Street Program. It does not involve city tax dollars.
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.
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.
For the 100 block of Central, the architects looked at remodeling the corner building that currently houses Big Sky Quilts into something with food and retail on the ground level and apartments on the upper floors. They designed a block that included a remodeled Kellergeist, a project already underway, with outdoor seating and another restaurant down the block with outdoor seating.
The building that currently houses the quilt shop is on the market and a number of downtown organizations are discussing options for that property.
For the 500 block of Central, the architects designed a vision that included market rate apartments on the upper levels, with update facades of the ground floor businesses. The architects included a boutique fitness business and a childcare facility on the block where Jack’s Pet Store is currently located but that doesn’t mean the pet store would be closing or moving out.
The renderings included an Asian restaurant where 5th Street Diner was located and upper floor apartments along the block since the buildings are connected but have light wells between them and skylights, as well as a second story courtyard in the back of the Dragonfly Dry Goods building.
For the 200 block of 1st Avenue South, the architects designed a retail and restaurant center made of shipping containers in what is currently a parking lot.
Shipping container retail centers are popular worldwide and there are several in the U.S. They’re durable and mobile and fairly small, allowing for a lot of retail options and configurations in smaller areas.
The architects designed a courtyard area with the shipping containers and on the other end of the parking lot, designed an indoor market with upper level apartments and a restaurant with an outdoor terrace.
Brett Doney of GFDA said the renderings will be used in marketing packets to recruit developers to downtown Great Falls.
Other development is already underway in downtown, including the specialty butcher shop on the 400 block of Central Avenue, which LPW is also involved in designing.
During the brainstorming sessions, a number of people said downtown needed an event center.
Peterson, an architect with LPW and an owner in Enbar and The Block, said there is an event center coming to downtown and that more details would likely be released in January.
He said his company is also working with a developer on a project in the downtown opportunity zone and that the developer has indicated if the project goes well, they’d take on another downtown project.
“I think we’re turning a corner in Great Falls,” Peterson said.