Downtown Master Plan: Where will future residents, visitors park?

Michael Houlihan, a transportation board and Missoula Consolidated Planning Board member, asked consultants Tuesday if the finalized Downtown Master Plan includes adding more downtown residents, where will people park? (Missoula Current file photo)

Public meetings galore remain on the docket, but the Downtown Master Plan for Missoula is nearly complete and inching near adoption.

In October, the Missoula City Council and Missoula County Commission will vote on whether to formally adopt the rigorous long-range plan, said city Transportation Policy Coordinating committee vice chairman Dave Strohmaier on Tuesday. 

“Even though they’re in town presenting the final draft, there’s still time for public comment,” said Strohmaier after the monthly committee meeting. Stohmaier is Missoula County chairman, too. 

We are hoping October 9 or 16, for City Council, but it depends upon other council business and how they fit it in,” said Linda McCarthy, Downtown Missoula Partnership executive director and member of the Downtown Master Plan steering committee. “So … October is the best we have at this point.”

Calling it a “final plan” after a year packed with 60 public stakeholder meetings and conference calls, plus letters, surveys, meetings and a 10-week public comment period to absorb feedback from the community, McCarthy told the transportation policy coordinating committee that several presentations drew between 200 and 400 citizens concerned about reinvigorating downtown.

“We’ve had a chance to work with one of the best town planning firms in the country,” she said of consultants Dover, Kohl and Partners of Coral Gables, Florida. “We’re excited to have them back this week for adoption of the plan.”

Areas of focus include downtown infrastructure, housing, parking, transportation, commercial buildings and quality of life. 

The plan is an update to the original 2009 plan. 

“We’re launching a deeper dive on parks and trails north of the river from California Street to Missoula College. The guiding principles of this plan have really focused on being authentic, being inclusive, innovative, versatile and viable,” said McCarthy. 

Contracted through the Downtown Improvement District, the $40,000 plan is funded by public and private funds – 50 percent from each area, said McCarthy.

“It’s been a very intensive year,” said Jason King, one of the town planners who gave an overview summary. “We’re taking the plans to the next step – working with Missoula Parks and Rec and the partnership. This has been a process of maximum public participation.” 

A total of 66 percent of participants polled last May at an event at the Wilma reported that the project is on the right track – compared to 23 percent who said, “Probably/Yes” and a remaining 10 percent who said, “Not sure or no.” 

He said the planners have made changes to the plan based on feedback. For example, designs for the Wyoming Street neighborhood, which includes the Old Sawmill District and the southern part of the river, were changed to include a much larger buffer between homes and the riverbank after public input.

Other examples include redesigning the Orange Street and Higgins Avenue underpasses, the types of spaces other cities are transforming into public playground and art spaces.

But “multi-mobility” transportation is high on planning priorities.

“Parking and transportation have been a particularly important part of the conversation,” said King. The Missoula Parking Commission has been very involved in revisions to the plan.

Michael Houlihan, a transportation board and Missoula Consolidated Planning Board member, asked King that if the finalized plan includes adding more downtown residents, where will people park?

King said he foresees future downtown residents using more car sharing services in order to keep meet limited parking.

Aaron Wilson, city transportation planning manager, said his department plans to survey local use of Uber and Lyft to measure the current market for such car sharing.

Among other potential transportation modes – in addition to Mountain Line buses – are state-funded, rubber-tire trollies or street cars that wouldn’t necessary compete for dollars with Mountain Line.

Overall, the Downtown Master Plan aims to:

  • Improve mobility, health and safety
  • Ensure downtown develops into more than merely a “postcard” street
  • Stay original, stay authentic, stay green and create jobs
  • Better utilize the river and enhance parks
  • Create a downtown for everyone (including transportation access)

Your voice can still be heard concerning the Downtown Master Plan in the pre-adoption process. For a list of upcoming public meetings and workshops, including 32 in the next four days, see the official project website at www.missoulasdowntownmasterplan.com/new-events.

North Riverside Parks and Trails Design Workshops are planned for Sept. 19, 4:30-6:30 p.m. at Caras Park Pavilion, 123 Carousel Dr.; and Sept. 20, 12 noon-2 p.m., Missoula City Council Chambers, 140 W. Pine.