Groundbreaking set for downtown art park

By Martin Kidston

With funding in hand and a vision firmly set, a coalition of community partners will break ground this week on a new art park planned for downtown Missoula, providing a place of artful repose in the city’s growing core.

The project, estimated at roughly $1 millionArtpark, will transform Pine Street between the Missoula Art Museum and Adventure Cycling into something of a plaza, complete with seating, flower beds, trees and a collection of sculptures.

“From an economic standpoint, it’s an enhancement for tourism, and it’s an amenity for downtown residents and visitors, making it a little more livable and attractive,” said Laura Millin, director of the art museum. “It’s cultural enrichment, and it will support creativity and the experience of art, just like the museum.”

Years in the making, supporters had hoped to push the project forward sooner, though early bids came in over budget. The low bid carried construction costs roughly $150,000 over initial expectations, Millin said.

Designers reengineered the project while supporters worked to raise additional funding. The project stands at roughly $1 million with $955,000 raised from private donations, grants and city contributions, Millin said.

“It has received extraordinary support,” she added. “The contractor was one of the donors who helped make it happen.”

Spokane-based Terrabella, an architectural landscaping firm, submitted the winning bid. The firm’s contract directs it to work with local subcontractors and provide as much as 60 percent of its labor from Missoula.

“We’re going to start construction next week,” said Millin. “Basically, we’ll reconfigure the ground around the museum on two sides. The colored concrete will cross the street and join with the apron in front of Adventure Cycling.”

Jim Sayer, executive director of Adventure Cycling, believes the project will serve as welcome addition to downtown Missoula. It will also welcome the growing number of bike travelers who pass through the city.

“Missoula is the mecca for bike travel in North America,” said Sayer. “People love coming to our building. This will be a wonderful added feature they’ll share in when they roll into our headquarters.”

As designed, the art park extends the Missoula Art Museum north and continues across Pine Street to Adventure Cycling. The two halves will be connected by colored concrete while raised planters, built-in benches, lighting and outdoor sculptures adorn the park.

While the project will eliminate 17 parking spaces, Millin said, the city has added parking elsewhere in town. Trees currently in the area will be removed and replaced with 20 new trees, she said.

“Just like downtowns across the county, Missoula is moving to a situation where these amenities may take out parking, but they enhance the experience of walking,” said Millin of the park. “It exposes people to more businesses as they walk to their destination and back. We’re moving in that direction as development continues downtown.”

Sayer believes the project will have a positive impact on the downtown community.

“I got introduced to this when I came on board 11 years ago,” said Sayer. “I’m a big fan of downtown Missoula. We have a muscular and vibrant downtown, and this will be one more great feature.”

The groundbreaking celebration is set for First Friday, Aug. 5, at 5 p.m. outside the Missoula Art Museum.