City Commission approves two downtown TIF projects

City Commissioners unanimously approved two tax increment financing requests for downtown projects during their Sept. 5 meeting.

The first was a request for $31,052 in downtown tax increment financing funds for pedestrian curb ramp improvements on Central Avenue.

The city planning department applied for and received a federal grant to bring the pedestrian curb ramps on Central Avenue from Park Drive to 6th Street into ADA compliance.

For the most part, that entails the installation of color-contrasting truncated domes or tactile warning strips as an aid to the visually impaired. In some instances, the ramp many need to be rebuilt due to noncompliant slopes for wheelchair users, according to city staff.

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The federal grant was awarded by the Great Falls Metropolitan Planning Organization, which includes the city, county, Montana Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration, Great Falls Transit District, among other agencies interested in transportation.

The project was selected for funding under MDT’s transportation alternatives program, which is generally for nonmotorized travel infrastructure improvements.

The project received $200,330 in federal grant funds and commissioners approved $31,052 of TIF funds to match the grant and complete the project.

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Commissioners also approved $243,000 of downtown TIF funds for the installation of street trees, period lighting, decorative concrete and new ADA ramps on the east side of 7th Street South between Central Avenue and 1st Avenue South.

After an inquiry from the O’Haire Inn and the Business Improvement District, the city public works department identified the project to replace dangerous, deficient and unsafe sidewalk and corner curb ramps, an alley approach and associated stormwater conveyance/collection facilities, according to city staff.

The 2013 Downtown Access, Circulation and Streetscape Plan calls for a continuation of the downtown streetscape, with the highest-priority areas for expansion being the primary retail side streets, the half-blocks immediately north and south of Central Avenue from Park Drive to 9th Street, according to staff.

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A previous streetscape project completed improvements on most blocks south of Central Avenue, but did not have enough available funding to continue beyond the west side of 7th Street South, according to staff.

The sidewalk next to the Sip ‘n Dip/O’Haire Inn on the east side of 7th Street South was affected by a recent water main project. The city public works and planning departments agreed it was a opportunity to replace the sidewalk with street trees, period lighting and decorative concrete, according to staff.

Both projects are within the Downtown Urban Renewal District and is eligible for TIF funds, according to city staff.

The Downtown Development Partnership voted in July to recommended approval of both requests.

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The downtown TIF shows a negative balance with all of the current project obligation, which would normally be concerning, but the balance sheet doesn’t reflect that the city’s downtown TIF building program hasn’t spent its initial $500,000 annual allocation and the stormwater project will be funded over five years.

“While the downtown TIF is being utilized heavily by both the private sector and the City of Great Falls, there is adequate funding in the TIF district to fulfill the request,” according to city staff.