City approves TIF funding for downtown economic strategy

Updated at 6:30 p.m. Feb. 24

City Commissioners approved a request for up to $30,000 in downtown tax increment financing funds toward the development of an economic vitality transformation strategy.

The Downtown Development Partnership requested the funds.

The DDP serves as the coordinating body for downtown development and its members include NeighborWorks Great Falls, the Great Falls Development Authority, the Great Falls Business Improvement District, the Downtown Great Falls Association, the City of Great Falls, Cascade County, Great Falls Public Schools, the Great Falls Area Chamber of Commerce, Neighborhood Council 7, the city’s parking advisory board and the city-county Historic Preservation Advisory Commission.

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The economic vitality transformation strategy will be a two-step process beginning with a demand assessment, according to the application.

That will include a market demand assessment to determine what types of businesses and real estate ventures are in demand in the downtown to help achieve goals in the Downtown Master Plan and Urban Renewal Plan.

The assessment will be used to build the strategy and attract more downtown development.

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The DDP application for TIF funding states, “in order to continue positive momentum, we need to attract more investment to our downtown. The best way to do is through doing a market-driven assessment and use the findings to develop an economic vitality strategy that will drive our downtown economic development efforts over the next 3-5 years. We have found that one of the most effective ways for us to attract new investment is to do the local market research that entrepreneurs, businesses and developers often can’t afford to do or will not invest in when they are just considering a downtown investment. By doing the upfront market assessment, we can attract more interest to take a closer look at downtown Great Falls.”

The anticipated consultant cost for the project is $40,000.

The DDP is asking for up to $30,000.

The DDP and city have partnered to apply for a $20,000 grant from the Montana Main Street program.

If the grant is awarded, that would drop the TIF contribution to $10,000.

GFDA said on Feb. 24 that the city had been awarded the full Montana Main Street grant.

The Great Falls Development Authority and NeighborWorks Great Falls have each committed $5,000 to the project, as well as staff time to the project, lowering the overall cost, according to the staff report.

City staff discussed the request with legal counsel and have deemed the project eligible under state TIF law and the Downtown Urban Renewal Plan.

The downtown TIF fund has a current $4.2 million balance, according to staff.

During the meeting, Jolene Schalper of GFDA, said that “we need the data” since it drives business investment.

She said that they’ll use the data from the project to go recruit brands and developers to the downtown.

Schalper said they’re effective at using that type of data to recruit business in other areas and see it as the next step for grown in downtown.

She and her husband pay taxes on three parcels in the downtown TIF district and support the project.

Sherrie Arey of NWGF said they’re in support and part of their strategic plan is to be a community catalyst for neighborhood revitalization.

She said they know the north and south sides of the downtown area need revitalization and infill and are hoping the data will give them information to target housing improvements.

Kellie Pierce, of the DGFA and BID, said that the project is one of the “key pieces that is going to help push that envelope forward for us.”

She said it’s an opportunity to leverage TIF dollars to keep growing downtown.

Kevin Westie, a regular meeting goer, said he was opposed to the TIF and that downtown doesn’t need more development.

Commissioner Joe McKenney asked how the information from the project would be shared since not all businesses get recruited.

Schalper said it would be posted on their website, shared with local business and media and through various development groups.