Planning board recommends approval of more TIF funds for wayfinding plan

The city planning board voted to recommend approval of a request for tax increment financing for a city-wide wayfinding plan.

The Business Improvement District in cooperation with the Downtown Development Partnership and the City of Great Falls, is working on the Explore Great Falls Wayfinding Plan that will draw and direct residents and visitors passing through the area to explore amenities, attractions and businesses within the community, according to the downtown groups. It will connect pedestrians, cyclists and vehicles with downtown and adjacent destinations and local amenities.

Public asked to take wayfinding survey

The planning board approved a request for $5,050 from the West Bank Urban Renewal TIF District.

That funding is being used to cover a shortfall in other funding for the $66,550 contract for development of the plan. The cost doesn’t include fabrication of signs, construction or placement of signs.

Public asked to add destinations for wayfinding plan

In February, the Great Falls Business Improvement District on behalf of the Downtown Development Partnership received a $15,000 grant from the Department of Commerce’s Montana Main Street Program for development of the wayfinding plan.

The Main Street grant funding is coupled with $25,000 that the city earmarked in 2017 from the downtown TIF district toward wayfinding.

Brett Doney of the Great Falls Development Authority and DDP member said that the Business Improvement District, Tourism Business Improvement District and DDP contributed $6,500 each toward the project. The Great Falls Area Chamber of Commerce and GFDA each contributed $1,000.

Downtown groups seeking proposals for wayfinding plan

That left the groups $5,050 short of the total cost.

The BID is an accredited member of the Montana Main Street program and is a nationally recognized Main Street America member. The BID and DDP with the City of Great Falls, released a request for proposals in October 2019 and selected Cushing Terrell, formerly known as CTA Architects Engineers, for the project.

During the April 22 DDP meeting, Nicole Olmstead from Cushing Terrell told the group that the main focus was to create a clear and consistent signage plan to get visitors moving throughout the community.

Olmstead said the team was anticipating the project would take six to seven months.

Then they’ll create the base map as a guiding document on the placement of signage, but Olmstead said they don’t foresee getting into exact sign locations.

In late summer, Olmstead they’d get into the design phase with general themes, collecting comments, making adjustments and presenting the final plan.

“At the end of this, you guys will have a great plan that can be implemented through time in a way that makes sense to the community,” Olmstead said.

According to the RFP that was released in 2019, the city will provide grant administration and the BID will provide oversight of the project.

Wayfinding project planned for downtown in effort to improve economic development, connectivity and tourism

The downtown organizations and the city have been discussing options for wayfinding plans for years but have had little success in securing a grant for the project so far. Officials and downtown groups have often said they’d prefer to develop an organized plan for the downtown area, or the entire city, versus piecemealing signage for things like parking.

Parking board continues strategic planning effort

“The need for a wayfinding plan in Great Falls stems from the challenges the city faces with connecting pedestrians, cyclists and vehicles with downtown Great Falls and adjacent destinations including the River’s Edge Trail, city parks and other community attractions,” according to the RFP. “To that end, the city intends to develop signage oriented to pedestrians, cyclists and vehicles.”