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Brooks Street corridor plan presents new Midtown vision

The Brooks Street corridor plan looks to transition district away from its dependence on the automobile to create an urban hub built around walkable neighborhoods, housing and local amenities. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current)

By Martin Kidston/Missoula Current

Back in September, Missoula residents trickled into a room at the county fairgrounds to pore over colorful maps depicting the unwritten future of the Brooks Street corridor, and with it the Midtown district.

Since that time, consultants with New Mobility West have compiled that community input and local vision into a book of recommendations intended to guide future growth and development throughout the district, including its need for housing, transit and stronger connectivity.

The resulting Brooks Street Corridor Study will be unveiled Wednesday at the Missoula County Fairgrounds.

“We want to preserve the character of Missoula and have a global planning document that facilitates activity nodes and strengthens pedestrian connections,” said Mark Bellon, president of the Missoula Midtown Association. “We want to see a very healthy business community.”

The Missoula Midtown Association has been around for years, though the organization went dark during the recession. But as the economy improved and millions of dollars in new development found its way back to the Brooks Street corridor, the organization reformed.

Over the past year, the nonprofit has continued to grow and strengthen with new members and new support. Aided by the city, the Missoula Redevelopment Agency and Mountain Line, advocates are looking to forge a unified vision for the Midtown district.

“We’re a nonprofit and we’re really there to be a voice for the Midtown area, its residents and its businesses,” said Bellon. “Our mission is to prioritize healthy businesses, quality of place and quality of life. This study is right in line with our mission statement of fulfilling this community guided vision that will pave the Midtown future.”

While that future evolves, evidence of its possibilities are becoming clear. Missoula County recently completed a master plan for the fairgrounds, and Southgate Mall has launched a $74 million renovation and expansion of its Midtown property.

That project includes new restaurants, shopping and other neighborhood amenities. Housing is part of future plans, and the city is working to improve connectivity, starting with the extension of Mary Avenue from Brooks to South Reserve streets.

“The Brooks Corridor Study will become a guiding document in terms of what type of development is considered on and around that corridor,” said MRA director Ellen Buchanan. “It has the potential to guide MRA on how to make tax increment financing decisions, and it should guide the city’s Development Services on what kind of regulatory changes are needed to support the kind of development envisioned.”

Prepared by New Mobility West and the Progressive Urban Management Association, the Brooks Street Corridor Final Report looks to transform Missoula’s Midtown commercial corridor into a vibrant, urban hub built around new housing and services, walkable neighborhoods and public transit.

The new plan resulted from broad community input and a number of local workshops. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current)

The district encompass much of south Missoula and is home to 16,000 people and 7,500 households, the study suggests. Roughly 2,000 businesses occupy the area, employing 17,000 workers.

But the plan acknowledges what city leaders have been saying for years. The district is underdeveloped and remains dominated by an auto-oriented design. It’s also chopped up by “mega blocks,” such as Southgate Mall and the fairgrounds, which hinder connectivity.

The 72-page plan aims to change that by suggesting tweaks to city regulations that could enhance the district’s overall potential for development. That includes encouraging vertical construction with ground-floor retail and maximizing efficient infill.

“Midtown is an emerging district within Missoula,” said John Lavey with New Mobility West. “The study reveals how improved transit service presents new opportunities for higher-density housing and commercial development in Midtown, as well as opportunities to develop new activity nodes and strengthen pedestrian connections between Brooks and adjacent neighborhoods.”

The discussion will take place on Wednesday, Feb. 22, at the Home Arts Building at the fairgrounds starting at 5:30 p.m.

Contact reporter Martin Kidston at info@missoulacurrent.com