City Commission votes to expand downtown district

City Commissioners voted unanimously during their April 19 meeting to expand the boundary of the Business Improvement District for the first time since its creation in 1989.

State law allows the city to create the district and also to expand the boundaries.

City considering expansion of downtown business district

The resolution to expand the district deals only with the expanded area and the existing district does not have to be reestablished.

The BID was originally created in May 1989, recreated in 1999, again in 2009 and most recently in 2019.

BIDs are established for 10 years under state law, but can be renewed.

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A petition signed in support by 71.21 percent of property owners in the proposed expanded area was submitted to the city and the law requires that at least 60 percent sign such a petition and then the governing body shall establish, or expand, the district.

Joan Redeen, the BID’s only employee, said that the expansion adds 20 new parcels and of those 16 property owners voted in favor of the expansion, which will add a special assessment to those parcels that stays within the district to fund beautification and other tasks, such as snow and trash removal.

The BID also started the downtown pedlet program and manages the annual ArtsFEST Montana, which is the downtown mural festival each August.

The expansion is anticipated to increase revenue for the district by $15,848.

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She said that two property owners didn’t respond to the vote, which constitutes a no vote, and two property owners voted against the expansion.

Redeen said that over the years the BID has provided $1.1 million in grants to downtown properties, but have not had any grant programs over the last few years. She said the board is currently discussing establishing two grant programs, one that would fund a months rent for a new business and one that would help with interior renovations.

Alison Friend, owner of Dragonfly Dry Goods and a BID board member, said that when they do the vote to renew the BID, property owners speak to each other about the benefits of the program and address any issues.

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Kellie Pierce, director of the Downtown Great Falls Association, said she works closely with the BID and though they have different boundaries and specific roles, the expansion “is a huge step forward in making all of downtown one downtown.”

Jolene Schalper, speaking as the owner of two downtown properties within the BID, said she was in favor and that it was important to note that it’s a self-imposed tax by property owners within the district.

There was no opposition to the expansion.

Commissioner Joe McKenney said that he was contacted by many property owners in downtown who were supportive of the expansion. He said no one had contacted him in opposition.

“It’s really not every day that a group comes to the city commission and says will you please raise our taxes but that is what’s happening today and I’ll be voting for it,” McKenney said.

Commissioner Rick Tryon said that it was “pretty amazing” that 16 property owners voted to include themselves in the district and impose the assessment on themselves.

“So you guys are doing something right…appreciate everything that you do,” Tryon said.

The goal of the BID is to maintain, beautify, and stimulate development in Great Falls’ historic downtown district.

State law allows for the creation of business improvement districts for the purpose of promoting the health, safety, prosperity, security and general welfare of the inhabitants of the district and to provide special benefit to the property owners located within the boundaries of said district.

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The BID boundary has not changed since 1989 and there were 195 parcels within the boundary, including some owned by Cascade County and the City of Great Falls.

“The City Commission for the City of Great Falls has determined that the Great Falls Business Improvement District promotes the health, safety, prosperity, security and general welfare of the inhabitants of the City of Great Falls and has determined the District provides special benefits to those properties located within its boundaries,” according to the staff report.