Wayfinding plan now complete and available for review

The Great Falls Wayfinding Plan is now complete and is available online for community members to view.

The final plan includes, maps, sign designs and a complete project narrative and is the first step for the community to implement a comprehensive wayfinding program in Great Falls, according to a release from the Business Improvement District.

The plan can be viewed at www.greatfallsbid.com.

“A comprehensive wayfinding program is essential to connect pedestrians and vehicles with Downtown Great Falls and the surrounding cultural, natural, and recreational amenities. By providing prominent, appealing signage, many who would otherwise simply travel through Great Falls or those who are not familiar with the area, will learn about the services, destinations and points of interest that are available. The wayfinding plan will help residents and visitors easily navigate the city and the surrounding area and readily find attractions and available services such as schools, healthcare facilities, museums and exhibits, public parking, public restrooms, parks, trails, galleries, library, city and county offices, police department, etc.,” according to the BID release.

Draft wayfinding plan available for public comment

Funding for this project has been obtained through a grant from the Department of Commerce’s Montana Main Street Program, the Downtown Tax Increment Financing District, the BID, Great Falls Montana Tourism, the Downtown Development Partnership, Great Falls Development Authority, the Great Falls Area Chamber of Commerce and the Downtown Great Falls Association. The BID has taken the lead on this city-wide project and contracted with Cushing Terrell in the creation of the plan. The BID is now pursuing grant funds to implement the plan in 2021.

A wayfinding or signage plan has long been a goal of the city, particularly in the downtown, and has been discussing in parking board meetings for years and is identified in the 2012 Downtown Master Plan.

The draft plan includes proposed locations for signs; amenities to be identified and designs for the signs themselves, which have a 7-10 year lifespan, according to Joan Redeen, BID director.

Tony Houtz of Cushing Terrell, the consultant on the plan, said that the locations included were identified through several comment periods since April.

Some of the downtown locations proposed for directional signage include access points to the River’s Edge Trail, the Civic Center/Mansfield Theater, C.M. Russell Museum, The History Museum, Electric City Water Park and more, Houtz said.

The Downtown Development Partnership, an organization of various downtown agencies, will take the administrative lead on initial installation of the signs in the downtown area and work with other entities to fund the installation for signs outside the downtown boundaries or not identifying downtown sites.

Redeen said in October that the group has solicited bids to get cost estimates for the fabrication and installation of the signs, which is estimated about $1,200 per sign, she said, but that if multiple signs are purchased at once, the cost per sign would go down.

She said they’re also working with city public works to get estimates on sign maintenance.

Redeen said the group will request TIF funding for sign installation.

In September, City Commissioners voted 5-0 to approve a request for $5,050 from the West Bank Urban Renewal TIF District for the Explore Great Falls Wayfinding Plan.

The city-wide wayfinding plan is being developed by the Business Improvement District in cooperation with the Downtown Development Partnership and the City of Great Falls.

The plan 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 TIF 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.”