City considering changes to downtown TIF programs
During their April 18 meeting, City Commissioners will consider updating the tax increment financing programs within the downtown district.
The proposed changes include increasing the maximum amount for the life safety/code compliance program and updating the eligibility guidance so that projects installing fire suppression and ADA improvements are automatically eligible.
The proposed changes would also increase the total allowance for all of the downtown TIF programs from $80,000 to $130,000.
City approves $68K TIF funding for downtown renovation
Commissioners adopted the Downtown Urban Renewal Plan in 2012 after the development and adoption of the Downtown Master Plan, according to city staff.
“The Downtown Master Plan provides a blueprint for the revitalization and redevelopment of downtown, and recommended the creation of an urban renewal district that utilizes tax increment financing to help fund public improvements called out within the DMP and the city’s growth policy,” according to city staff.
City considering $68K funding request for downtown renovation
In 2021, the Business Improvement District and Great Falls Development Authority worked with city staff and the city’s outside legal counsel to develop three distinct improvement programs within the downtown TIF district that private developers could apply for.
Those programs include:
- life safety/code compliance: designed to increase the fire safety and handicap accessibility in downtown buildings. “Due to the historic nature of the downtown building inventory, many buildings are rife with building and fire code violations as well as features that impede the use and enjoyment of services and activities for those with physical and mobility impairments,” according to the staff report. When commissioners adopted the programs in July 2021, they set a maximum of $25,000 for projects in this category.
- environmental safety: works toward the elimination of blight based upon the principles of crime prevention through environmental design and other safety and security design principles. Environmental safety is a set of design principles used to discourage crime and promote building security through additional lighting and security cameras. It can also be used to create inviting and safe public spaces where people can gather and socialize. Commissioners set a $5,000 total reimbursement cap for this category.
- façade: funds projects designed to improve the public facing building facades in the downtown. This includes projects such as window replacement, new façade materials, improved building entrances, and other projects designed to greatly enhance the attractiveness of downtown buildings. The maximum funding awarded for eligible projects was set at $50,000.
City approves expanded TIF programs for downtown projects 
Craig Raymond, former planning director, had told commissioners in the fall that they may want to consider adjusting the programs based on the low number of applicants for the funds.
Detailed discussion on the proposed changes were developed after a TIF request from Keith Cron for life safety and code compliance improvements at 313 Central Ave.
Planning board to consider expanded downtown TIF proposal 
Cron requested $68,560 to install a fire suppression system in the planning distillery in that building.
Staff recommended denial because the request exceeded the $25,000 program limit; wasn’t fixing a fire code violation but was an improvement mandated by the change of use; and wasn’t deemed to have had “extraordinary expenses” under the commission guidance, according to city staff.
Commissioners voted 3-2 in January to approve the request and asked staff to consider program revisions to raise the funding limit for the life safety and code compliance program, loosen the guidelines to give more flexibility for fire suppression requests and address when commissioners can approve larger funding requests, according to staff.
Downtown group endorses proposal to expand downtown TIF program 
City planning staff has coordinated the changes with the Downtown Development Partnership, which reviewed and endorsed the proposal during their February meeting.
When commissioners created the downtown programs in 2021, they made $500,000 in downtown TIF funds toward those programs.
Buildings that have already been improved under the downtown TIF include the Sip ‘N Dip/O’Haire Inn; Columbia Grain building at 120 1st Ave. N; Honey Hippo at 325 1st Ave. N.; The Newberry and The Wild Hare.