Poised for growth, downtown Missoula market part of Saturday morning success

The Clark Fork Market in downtown Missoula was approved for expansion by the City Council this week. The market is one of three operating along Higgins Avenue in the downtown district. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current)

Visitors to the Clark Fork Market in downtown Missoula will find more elbow room now that city leaders have approved the market’s plan to expand onto Pattee Street.

For those with an eye on the district’s success, the growth of the city’s Saturday morning markets and the distribution of visitors has served as an economic boon.

“Our morning markets are super important to the downtown economy and the downtown experience,” Linda McCarthy, executive director of the Downtown Missoula Partnership, said Friday. “That environment that you see in our downtown on Saturdaymorning is the kind of environment we want to replicate every day.”

The City Council approved the Clark Fork Market’s request this week to expand its boundaries to the east. That enables the market, located in the parking lot under the Higgins Avenue Bridge, to expand onto Pattee Street near the Holiday Inn.

The hotel agreed to the terms.

“The market is thriving and things are going very well,” said Missoula Mayor John Engen, who serves as a member of the Clark Fork Market’s board of directors. “They’ve asked for a little more room to breathe. So they got together with the owner of Holiday Inn to vacate the southern portion of Pattee Street for the purpose of expanding the market on Saturday mornings.”

The Clark Fork River Market is one of three operating along Higgins Avenue in downtown Missoula on Saturday morning. The Missoula Farmers Market stages near the old railroad depot at the north end of downtown while the Clark Fork Market anchors the southern end of the district.

The People’s Market, dominated by local arts and crafts and other vendors, splits the two on Pine Street. That market moved from the east side of Higgins to the west side last year.

“We want all three markets to thrive,” said McCarthy. “Moving the People’s Market really created a new dynamic in the environment, because all the markets were on the east side of Higgins, and now people visit the west side as well. It balanced out the traffic.”

The success of all three markets and the overall health of the district has led the Missoula Downtown Association and other partners to revisit the Downtown Master Plan. It was initially adopted by the City Council in 2009, outlining the district’s needs and opportunities for growth.

Many of the plan’s early elements have been met, including the need for modern downtown lodging, an additional parking structure and redevelopment of the Riverfront Triangle, which continues to move ahead.

When it comes to the morning markets, the new plan will also take a look at Caras Park. The city expects to hire a consultant next year to begin the plan’s update.

“As we move into updating the downtown master plan, we’ll spend some time looking at the Caras Park corridor and how to improve the infrastructure to accommodate a larger market,” said McCarthy. “It’s not just for the market, but for larger events like Saturday’s Celtic Fest.”