The low down on groups downtown

By: 
JENNY GESSAMAN
Reporter
Lewistown's Main Street is the focus of several community groups.

Anyone in Central Montana knows Lewistown prides itself on its community, and on its community groups. Sometimes, however, acronyms can get confusing. Here’s the News-Argus’ guide to Lewistown’s organizations involved in aspects of downtown development.

Fergus County Port Authority

Secretary Pete Peterson described the port authority as a group that promotes business in Central Montana, with a focus on Fergus County and Lewistown.

Established in 2000, the authority came out with a 2001 mission statement that names business retention, expansion and recruitment, as well as infrastructure development, as its goals. Peterson explained that if the authority finds an undertaking in one of those categories, it could help financially.

“We have the opportunity: If we can find a project, we can secure funding,” he said.

Peterson said that while the port authority could help a business in downtown Lewistown, its scope was much larger.

“There are numerous groups that are already focused on that,” he said. “Our focus is Fergus County because we fall under Fergus County.”

Lewistown Arts and Entertainment District

President Carol Woolsey can clearly define the group’s purpose.

“The arts district is a dedicated, boundaried area of downtown Lewistown where the main focus is to cultivate and promote arts and culture,” she said.

Woolsey detailed the district’s first project: a downtown cleanup. She explained the group wanted to improve the experiences of visitors and residents by creating a more welcoming environment.

“We’re just trying to get rid of the look of decay,” she said.

Woolsey clarified how a cleanup would benefit arts, culture and even Lewistown.

“Once we get our cleanup project rolling, and our town gets more attractive, we’d like to attract artists to come and set up residence,” she said, adding increased arts could bring shoppers.

“The creation of arts and entertainment districts is really a successful trend right now,” Woolsey said. “A lot of dying and decaying towns right now have focused on the arts.”

Lewistown Area Chamber of Commerce

Executive Director Connie Fry defined the chamber as a private non-profit focused on promoting its members, with roots traceable back over 100 years to February 1908.

“Our major goal is to promote our members and bring people to our community,” she said. “Everything we do, we try to bring people back to the Lewistown area.”

Fry reported the chamber has 239 members across Central Montana, and said the chamber encourages all of them to network within and with the community, including downtown Lewistown.

“Yes, we’re concerned with downtown, but we’re also concerned with all of the town and with all of the community,” she explained.

Lewistown Community Development Corporation

This decade-old nonprofit is an offshoot of the City of Lewistown’s Housing Advisory Committee, according to member Duane Ferdinand.

“Its primary purpose was to assist in solving housing issues and to assist in redevelopment activities for the benefit of low-income residents,” he said.

Ferdinand said the corporation gives whatever it has available, be it time, funding or assistance finding resources, to help projects. He added the group is branching out, and plans to start assisting community projects as well. Some of those are downtown.

“We are actively participating in the redevelopment activity downtown, and we try to assist in the four-point Montana Main Street Program,” he said.

(Downtown definition:

“We subscribe to the downtown being the core of the community, or it’s living room, and we consider it to follow the TIF district or the Arts and Entertainment District boundaries,” he said.)

Lewistown Downtown Association

Since its start in 2007, the association has always had straightforward goals, according to Board Chair Chris Cooler.

“We are a volunteer board that focuses on preserving, protecting and promoting downtown Lewistown,” she said. “We operate using the four-point program fostered by the Main Street Montana Program, and we are affiliates of that.”

The state’s program, in turn, is based on a national downtown revitalization program that focuses on organization, promotion, design and economic vitality.

Cooler reported the LDA became a nonprofit organization last spring, and gave some examples of its work in the Lewistown community, including the Adopt-A-Block program.

“One of the things we do is we produce, or coproduce, many of the events downtown,” she said.

Cooler noted helping with downtown happenings folds into one of the LDA’s larger goals: Bringing and maintaining downtown activities involving the area’s businesses.

Lewistown Historic Resources Commission

An arm of the City of Lewistown, the seven-member board that makes up the Lewistown Historic Resources Commission meets once a month to work on various historical projects. Those projects, according to Chairman Jim Dullenty, must align with the commission’s intentions.

“The goals of the Historic Resources Commission are to preserve Lewistown’s heritage and protect it and promote it,” he said.

Dullenty noted many of the group’s projects are historic buildings, and the commission often provides support through fundraising, time or research.

Lewistown Improvement District/Downtown Tax Increment Finance District/TIF

Although the district was created in 2014, the City of Lewistown just designated the Lewistown Improvement District’s board in February, and Chairman Gregory Clark reports the group is still outlining its procedures. They already have a set goal, however.

“Our goal is to reinvest the funds that have been created by the incremental incentive tax district in ways that will deliver sustainable and long term growth to the district,” he said.

Clark said the district will use tax money to support projects, and clarified no new taxes had been introduced to fund the district.

“We only get money from property within that district, and that money is only the increases in property value assessments since the district’s designation,” he explained. “That money can only be spent in that district.”

The district board is still setting up it application process, but Clark said only physical projects benefitting the public good would qualify. He added anything from beautification to a project that brings in jobs would be considered.

Lewistown Tourism Business Improvement District (TBID)

Chairman Lonnie Mannin summarized TBID as a self-imposed tax started in 2013 that was voluntarily paid by most of Lewistown’s hoteliers. He clarified hotels and motels did not have to tax themselves if they did not want to.

“Local hotels grouped together to basically tax ourselves for each occupied room each night,” he said. “The money is use to promote tourism.”

Mannin named billboards and other types of advertisement as one type of promotion, but added TBID also sponsored local events to bring in tourists.

“[We sponsor] any kind of event that we feel will bring people in to stay in our motels,” he said.

While Mannin acknowledged TBID members do consider their own businesses when promoting tourism, he said the efforts of TBID help Lewistown’s economy across the board.

“Anytime you get an event in town, there are either family members or visitors going downtown to where those people have something to do,” he said. “And going downtown and shopping is a big part of that.”

Main Street Downtown/ROC Downtown Group

Main Street Downtown was spawned from a group of workshops in October 2015. The workshops trained volunteers who were wanted to “re-charge, re-build and re-discover the community.”

Member Chris Cooler said the resulting downtown ROC group was not structured around a set of goals.

“Our full focus is demand-driven, which is the fundamental thing we learned in the ROC process,” she said. “We did a survey in May and June, and we are working off that survey.”

The results revealed what the community wanted the most.

“The main things the ROC group is working on is beautification and economic development of downtown,” she said.

Because the group goes by community desires, Cooler said they work on a project-to-project basis.

Snowy Mountain Development Corporation

Executive Director Kathie Bailey labeled SMDC a private non-profit organization centered on the economy.

“We are a regional economic development organization serving the six counties in Central Montana,” she said.

Bailey listed Fergus, Golden Valley, Judith Basin, Musselshell, Petroleum and Wheatland counties as the corporation’s service area. She explained a board composed of three representatives from each county runs the corporation.

Bailey said the corporation helps projects with funding and the finding of other resources. The kinds of projects they assist are as vary, but all deal with economic development in some way.

“In economic development terms, there are a lot of pillars: It takes infrastructure, community development, business technical assistance and financing to build the economy,” she said.

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