By Martin Kidston/Missoula Current

With an eye on the future of the Missoula County Fairgrounds, county commissioners on Monday named Emily Bentley as the new director of fairgrounds development, a position that will oversee implementation of the property's new master plan.

Emily Bentley
Emily Bentley

Bentley, also a Ward 3 City Council member, will begin the job on Jan. 30.

“Under my leadership and with the support of the commission, I know I can bring their vision to fruition,” Bentley said Monday morning. “It's a vision that serves the entire county. Earning the respect of the many constituency groups is first on the list.”

Bentley, who has helped spearhead a number of city plans, is also an active member of the Missoula Midtown Association. The group, along with the Missoula Redevelopment Agency and Development Services, is working to transform the Brooks Street corridor and Midtown district, in which the fairgrounds sits.

Last October, the county also completed a new master plan for the fairgrounds, one that includes more than 1,300 developed parking spaces and a number of new facilities, including an expansive livestock center, a learning center and new sheets of ice at Glacier Ice Arena.

Bentley believes the fairgrounds can blend with the surrounding Brooks Street corridor and Midtown neighborhood as it evolves, while maintaining its roots in agriculture and as a community gathering place.

“If developed properly, it will help actualize the potential in Midtown,” said Bentley. “The plan calls for bike and pedestrian trails through the fairgrounds, but that's only useful if it connects with the surrounding transportation system. Under my leadership and with the support of the commission, I feel I can bring the plan to fruition.”

As the director of development, Bentley will be working with county staff, along with public and private stakeholders, to implement the master plan. No funding mechanism has been identified to complete the project, though Bentley said she'll focus on healing old divisions and building consensus for the facility's future.

“My primary focus will be on developing the master plan,” Bentley said. “Part of that is that we have to intensify the community's emotional and financial investment in the grounds, and part of that is throwing an incredible fair. The job is not totally divorced from the fair. But there's an amazing staff there that can throw an incredible fair, which frees up the director's time to focus on development.”

Commissioners said that during each phase of the selection process, Bentley stood out as the most qualified candidate for the position. Her work as the communications manager for WGM Group, her management experience, and her history of working through complex public processes, helped commissioners make their final decision.


Bentley will replace Todd Garrett, who retired last year as fairgrounds director, citing personal reasons.

“(Bentley) understands the importance of the fairgrounds as a countywide asset that, while in the heart of Missoula, is used and valued by folks throughout Missoula County and western Montana,” said Commissioner David Strohmaier.

“I was also impressed by her eagerness to engage both urban and rural constituencies, foster positive working relationships with county staff and stakeholders, and fully realize the potential of the fairgrounds as the gem that it is."

Contact reporter Martin Kidston at