Commission approves downtown group funding request for operations, murals

City Commissioners unanimously approved a request for $154,509 in tax increment financing funds for the Downtown Development Partnership during their Aug. 16 meeting.

The DDP is a partnership of downtown organizations to include the Great Falls Improvement District, Downtown Great Falls Association, NeighborWorks Great Falls, Great Falls Development Authority, City of Great Falls, Great Falls Public Library, Great Falls Public Schools, Great Falls Area Chamber of Commerce, Neighborhood Council 7, the city parking and historic preservation commissions and Cascade County.

Downtown group requesting TIF funds for operations, mural festival

Typically, the DDP reviews applications for downtown TIF funds, but in this case, the DDP is the applicant so the request bypasses the agency and goes straight to the commission for consideration.

The downtown TIF fund has a current $3,894,228 cash balance, according to city staff.

The request includes funds to pay for the downtown economic development officer, operational costs and ArtsFest MONTANA.

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During the meeting, Joan Redeen, of the Business Improvement District, said that “we know the arts are an economic driver, we know they’re a tourism driver.”

Sherrie Arey of NeighborWorks Great Falls said they support the request.

She said that they have murals in the alley behind their office and have noticed the difference. Arey said that there’s higher foot traffic of people taking photos, which drives out less savory behavior in those areas.

Commissioner Rick Tryon asked how the artists were selected for the mural festival and if there was any favoritism on the part of the organizers.

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Redeen said that the BID contracts with Cameron Moberg to curate the festival and he selects the artists but they do push to include Montana artists whenever possible.

Moberg coordinates festivals nationwide and has curated the Great Falls event since its creation in 2019.

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Moberg works to pay the artists based on their experience and mural size. Murals during a festival often cost less than a commissioner mural would cost a property owner.

Commissioner Joe McKenney said “downtown has really changed significantly in recent years. The positive change is just amazing.”

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Commissioners approved the DDP request for $53,884 to apply to expenses in the last budget year, which ended June 30. The request includes $31,234 to pay for half of the costs of the downtown business development officer. The BID and GFDA cover the other half.

The downtown business development officer’s duties include visiting existing businesses to identify opportunities and challenges; identifying businesses and real estate developers to attract downtown; business development services; downtown investment marketing efforts; and more.

The position is an employee of GFDA.

The request also included $14,650 in operating support, which includes $500 for membership in the International Downtown Association; $2,500 toward the downtown website; $2,850 in advertising; $8,600 for participation in the National Main Street Center trainings and webinars and up to $200 for miscellaneous operating expenses.

The request for the last budget year also included $6,500 for completion of the wayfinding plan and $1,500 for the downtown traffic box art project.

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Staff said in their agenda report that they can approve the funds as reimbursements, but recommend that going forward, the requests are brought to the commission before or at the beginning of a fiscal year.

Commissioners also approved the DDP request for $100,625 for the current fiscal year, which began July 1.

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That included $34,000 to pay for half of the costs of the downtown business development officer. The BID and GFDA will continue to fund the other half.

The request also included $17,150 for operating support, including $500 for IDA membership; $5,000 for the website; $2,850 for advertising; $8,200 for participation in the National Main Street Center programs and up to $250 for miscellaneous operating expenses.

City Commission approves TIF funding for downtown group, despite some concerns [2018]

The DDP was approved for $47,475 for ArtsFest MONTANA 2022, which is currently underway.

The commission previously approved $12,000 in fiscal years 2020 and 2021 for DDP operations.

Commissioners awarded $5,000 in fiscal year 2019 and $10,000 in fiscal year 2018 for DDP operations.