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County opens comment period on fairgrounds

By Martin Kidston/MISSOULA CURRENT

Missoula County commissioners on Wednesday opened a 60-day window to comment on the latest plan guiding future development of the Missoula County Fairgrounds.

Members of the Missoula City Council also requested closer dialogue with county commissioners as the planning process moves forward.

Todd Garrett, director of the fairgrounds, said the latest plan represents several years of work. The effort began in 2010 and has undergone several iterations as members of the Fairgrounds Advisory Committee worked through the process.

“Each time a concept was unveiled, we got feedback and then came back with new concepts,” said Garrett. “Quite a bit of effort was put into looking at these concepts, finally coming to the concept recommended to commissioners by the Fairgrounds Advisory Committee.”

Over the past few years, MCFAC has been charged with creating a master plan to guide future redevelopment of the fairgrounds. The plan envisions an expanded Glacier Ice Rink, an expansive multi-purpose center and a rodeo arena, among other things.

“Essentially, this plan allocates space for the various programs on the fairgrounds,” Garrett said. “Right now, the fairgrounds isn’t really that inviting. The plan drastically improves the safety and accessibly of the fairgrounds, and would pave the way for future progress.”

Regular users of the facility, including Future Farmers of American and 4H, lauded the progress made toward finalizing the plans. Several requested additional space to carry out there activities.

Laura DeNitto, the poultry superintendent, called the latest plan a “massive improvement.”

“What is so important about this, at this time, just for poultry, rabbits and goats right now, we’re squished into the llama barn,” said DeNitto. “Our projects, both open class and FHA, are growing and expanding. We’re running out of space.”

Members of the Missoula City Council also attended Wednesday’s meeting. The fairgrounds’ future served as a recent topic of discussion, with several council members urging planners to consider the bigger picture.

Several council members believe the plan doesn’t consider the surrounding neighborhood, nor does it harmonize with ongoing efforts to improve the Midtown district. Transit could also be included in the plan in place of a larger allocation of on-site parking.

“City council would love to have a collaborative meeting to talk about this,” Ward 6 council member Marilyn Marler told commissioners. “We tried to have that meeting a couple weeks ago. We’ve had some scheduling communication breakdowns, which is unfortunate because we’re right across the street from each other.”