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Missoula Downtown Plan seeks to balance history and future

Downtown Missoula
Posted at 9:18 AM, Sep 19, 2019
and last updated 2019-09-19 12:51:06-04

MISSOULA — Barring any last minute objections, Missoula's new Downtown Master Plan should be approved and finalized by more than a dozen government, business and community organizations in the next few weeks.

MTN News took a closer look at how the new plan will reflect not only Missoula's past, but the rapid change leading to the future.

RELATED: Traffic, parking mobility a big part of Downtown Missoula Master Plan

When the last Downtown Master Plan was approved in 2009, Missoula was markedly different. Macy's was still operating, but underperforming and would soon close, leading to its eventual demolition and replacement by the new Residence Inn.

Other construction had yet to be started, including the explosion of breweries and new restaurants.

"We have over the course of the last 10-years attracted about $850 million of investment. That's a lot of private dollars, public dollars, transportation dollars. We're seeing a lot of new businesses coming into the marketplace, you know, new hotels new development," said Downtown Missoula Partnership executive director Linda McCarthy.

That's created excitement over Missoula's future. But over the past two years as the new Master Plan took shape, McCarthy says it became apparent people also want to keep from completely erasing those ties to the past -- and what makes Missoula unique.

"They care very much about who we are as a community and protecting that, and making sure that we're preserving our history. And not changing so much that we don't recognize ourselves," McCarthy told MTN News.

Missoula Downtown Plan seeks to balance history and future

The new Downtown Master Plan, which is making the rounds of partner organizations this week, takes stock of amenities like Caras Park and offers way to accommodate the growth.

"You look at a place like Caras Park, we're using it about 80 to 200 times a year. We should be using it about 300 to 350 times a year," McCarthy said. "So what can we do to better activate that space?"

One element addressed in the plan is easing the last of the old orientation, where Missoula had its back to one of its best features, the Clark Fork River.

"What's happening is we're having degradation and erosion and parking and transportation issues. And so if we can build the infrastructure around that to better serve that use they we can better protect the river," McCarthy said.

"And we have riverfront trail system, but we have such a high use we need to really think about, are our trails wide enough? And should be be incorporating formal inputs and exits into the water?" she added.

While the plan seeks to preserve downtown's history, centered around Higgins Avenue as it has since the beginning, there are also objectives to have more than one postcard street, including other neighborhoods in the focus.

"And we do think about Higgins as our primary street. But if we can expand that feel, to other parts you know, east and west, north and south, we become a broader inclusive downtown," McCarthy said.

Among the plan adoption events going on this week, there will be a public workshop from 4:30 p.m. until 6:30 p.m. Thursday at the Caras Park Pavilion. A second public workshop from 12 p.m. until 2 p.m. at the Missoula County Council chambers on Friday.