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Missoula Planning Board signs off on new Downtown Master Plan

Downtown Missoula
Posted at 12:00 PM, Oct 02, 2019
and last updated 2019-10-02 14:00:33-04

MISSOULA — Calling it a visionary document, members of the Missoula Planning Board on Tuesday night approved the new Downtown Master Plan for adoption, setting it on track to replace the 2009 plan later this year.

Now a year in the making, the master plan could be implemented this fall after winning approval from the City Council and Missoula County commissioners. The plan has been favorably received by the various committees and organizations that have taken action so far.

“We’re expecting the Missoula Redevelopment Agency and the Missoula Parking Commission to adopt it this month, along with the City Council,” said Linda McCarthy, executive director of the Downtown Missoula Partnership. “The new plan is a big-picture, forward-thinking, 10-year community vision for the heart of Missoula.”

McCarthy said the last plan helped guide $850 million in investments made in downtown Missoula over the past decade. More than 70 percent of the action items identified in the plan were brought to fruition.

Several of those items that weren’t achieved, such as redevelopment of the railyard north of the depot, and converting Front and Main streets to two-way travel, were rolled over into the new plan as continuing goals.

The plan covers a wide range of topics, from housing to parking and parks to commercial development. McCarthy said implementation takes time and a team effort.

“We’ll strategize a little on the near-term action items,” she said. “Implementation doesn’t just happen within the (implementation) committee. There’s often other people and other organizations working on projects. We typically tend to pick six to 12 (goals) we want to focus on, and every year we report back on what our progress is.”

The old plan set a number of visionary goals for the district, including the need for modern hotel accommodations, expanded housing and structured parking. Most of those goals were achieved, and like the old plan, the new plan will also serve as a guide to city officials as opportunities arise.

“Our experience with the first plan is that it guides decision making for agencies and investors all across the downtown community,” McCarthy said. “It speaks at a pretty high level to the goals and mission and gives you good ideas.”

While the plan is not an edict to developers, the city has other tools at its disposal that can help ensure projects align with the plan’s community vision.

Ellen Buchanan, executive director of the Missoula Redevelopment Agency, said tax increment financing can be a powerful incentive.

“It’s probably one of the strongest tools we have where we don’t have regulatory ability in a lot of areas. It’s the incentive,” she said. “We’ve used the downtown master plan over and over to help influence development in the downtown. We have some great success stories where TIF has greatly influenced how a project has developed.”