Martin Kidston

(Missoula Current) With a community workshop held to flesh out the details of the Midtown Master Plan now complete, the city's consultants are expected to have the project's early design concepts out next week.

Melanie Brock, a Midtown partner in the project, said EcoNorthwest is expected to post its initial concepts for the Midtown district online before month's end. The results will have considered hundreds of far-ranging public comments gathered over the past year as plans to redevelop the district progress.

Brock said engagement has been high throughout the process.

“There were a lot of people wanting to talk about crossing Brooks Street on foot and bike,” she said, adding that both Midtown residents and visitors have weighed in. “It's been a really well represented group.”

Words like disconnected, disjointed, massive parking lots and no sense of place have been used to describe the district throughout the planning effort.

EconNorthwest was hired to gather input and present a new vision, one intended to create a sense of place. The district remains a relic of the 1970s model of urban expansion and was developed around the dominance of the automobile.

Through online surveys and public engagement, consultants have identified a number of challenges and opportunities including better use of what's now a sea of parking lots, a lack of connectivity, a tight retail and housing market, few transportation options, and barriers around new development.

Brock said the initial concepts will begin to make their public debut next week.

“We've heard from over 1,100 people,” Brock said. “They're consolidating all these comments and drafting the plan.”

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Along with transportation and connectivity, the district is ripe for infill development and the redevelopment of tired properties. A recent analysis found that doing nothing could increase the risk of displacement as competition for the limited supply of homes and retail space in the area mounts.

Opportunities for housing and new retail are high, though some hope to see the area retain what's currently considered affordable as new development moves in.

“They'll run a displacement risk analysis on everything this plan suggests,” Brock said. “The ultimate goal is to keep Midtown livable and hopefully stop displacement from happening.”

Ellen Buchanan, executive director of the Missoula Redevelopment Agency, said resources are available to help the plan's recommendations succeed. A parallel effort to convert Brooks Street into a multi-model transportation corridor is also moving forward.

“As they do the risk analysis, they're working with us relative to (the district) and what's coming out of the Brooks planning corridor with respect to where the nodes are, and being able to retain people in Midtown as certain areas redevelop at different points,” Buchanan said. “We have resources to help catalyze that.”

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