Master Plan provides vision for vibrant Uptown Butte; some concerned about follow-through – The Montana Standard

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Here is one rendering of a gateway to Uptown Butte that incorporates recommendations from a draft Uptown Master Plan unveiled this week.
The parking lot at Hamilton and Broadway could become a public plaza space for day -to-day use as well as events, as this rendering in an Uptown Master Plan depicts.
Establish a business improvement district. Formulate a lighting plan. Redesign streets so they’re more pedestrian and bicycle friendly. Create medians, green spaces and plazas. Make the Original Mine Yard a full-time public park.
Those are just some of the recommendations in a draft Uptown Master Plan unveiled this week that private consultants, county officials and economic development advocates have been working on for months.
It’s designed as a vision document and “guiding tool” the community can use “to transform Uptown into a place that ensures a high quality of life, character and diverse economic vitality,” and it includes recommendations for putting it into motion.
“This is a visioning document,” Karen Byrnes, Butte-Silver Bow’s community development director, told commissioners during a presentation of the draft plan this week. “This is a document about a vision of what we’d like to achieve but with actual goals and items.”
The 213-page document, which could be tweaked and finalized in December, says “implementation is the key” and it includes steps, strategies, time frames and potential funding sources for getting that done.
They start with formation of an implementation team that would meet monthly to review progress, with annual updates presented to the public and commissioners each year for at least the first five years.
But some of the suggestions, including alley and street enhancements, marketing efforts and “wayfinding,” have been tried and talked for years. So has one of the plan’s top priorities — establishing a Business Improvement District, or BID, in the heart of Uptown.
Several Montana cities have a BID, where property owners essentially tax themselves and spend the money on maintenance, security, promotions, landscaping or other capital improvements in a specified area.
At least 60 percent of property owners must agree to a BID, but the idea has never gotten far in Uptown Butte. Dave Palmer, when he was the county’s chief executive in 2018, said there were concerns about who would be in charge and mistrust about outcomes.
“A lot of this we’ve heard before,” Bob Worley, a longtime member of the board that oversees the Uptown Revitalization Agency, said of the master plan.
He liked some of the recommendations, including extended curbs at intersections and specially paved or painted crosswalks. But, he said, “We’ve done studies like this before and until we get some of these implemented, it will be another one that goes on the shelf.”
Commissioner John Sorich raised the same concern this week, while Commissioners John Riordan and Jim Fisher raised pragmatic concerns and questioned costs.
Developing the plan is costing close to $200,000, money that came from the URA and three state grants, including one obtained through the Butte Local Development Corp. It’s money going to Colorado-based DHM Design and other consulting and architectural services.
“I hope we’re getting what we want for our money,” Fisher said. “It bothers me sometimes that we get people (consultants) from bigger cities that come in that don’t fully understand Butte the way it is.”
Commissioner Josh O’Neill backed the effort, saying it was a necessary part of economic development. And Byrnes said its recommendations were driven locally.
There is an Uptown Master Plan Steering Committee and an Uptown Master Plan Association comprised of local business owners and leaders, county officials and economic development groups, and more than 45 meetings were held with hundreds of people chiming in.
“We had more participation in our public meetings than I think anyone could ever say they’ve had in public meetings over a plan,” Byrnes said, adding that Uptown business owners were also surveyed for input.
“We really feel like this is publicly driven and we’ve been listening to what the public wants to see,” she said.
One of the plan’s key vision statements is making Uptown a “clean, safe, walkable and vibrant destination.”
“Having a clean and safe Uptown is vital,” Walker Christensen, a principal at DHM Design, said during a public Zoom presentation on the plan this week. “People need to feel comfortable. They need to be able to walk around and explore.”
There are numerous recommendations under that category alone, with establishment of a BID that could fund some of the improvements at the top. A lighting plan is also needed, the report says, preferably done by a firm that specializes in lighting design.
The lighting should match “the historic character of Uptown” and the plan could include “poles, fixtures, bases, festoon lighting for public spaces and alleys, holiday lighting receptacles for trees” as well as speakers and the potential for security cameras.
The plan calls for street designs that improve pedestrian and bicycle safety and other features that “enhance the character and feel of Uptown.” They include “bump outs” at street corners, more trees, bike racks, terraced seating and building murals.
Plazas and green spaces should be created, the plan says, and it lists several ways to turn alleys into a “tremendous asset that provides a convenient pedestrian cut through and a rich urban experience.”
The plan recommends the Original Mine Yard, which is already used for festivals and events, become a full-time public park with expanded “multi-use lawn spaces,” more trees and shelters for shade and an enhanced playground.
“The close proximity of this park to the Uptown Core makes it ideal as a primary outdoor green space,” the plan says. “A conceptual plan and cost estimate should be developed as the next step.”
Another vision statement is making Uptown “Montana’s premier urban core,” with improving occupancy in vacant buildings or spaces through marketing and other efforts among top recommendations.
“Although there are over 50 entirely vacant buildings in the Uptown Urban Core, the large size of the buildings coupled with the expense and unknowns involved in renovation has resulted in predominantly occupied street level stories and vacant or partially occupied upper levels,” the plan says.
There is a section geared toward historic preservation that includes recommendations for a website dedicated to it, design guidelines and possible zoning changes.
Also, the report suggests, “Identify, fund develop, and maintain a program that identifies two to three historic properties, located within the Uptown Core, to focus preservation efforts upon, each fiscal year.”
There are several recommendations designed to “tell the stories of Butte, America.” They call for arches or other gateways to Uptown at Main, Park and Montana streets; signs and other “wayfinding” measures to help visitors get to and then get around Uptown; and establishing an Uptown welcome center in a highly visible location.
“The visitor center can be staffed by volunteers but should also be able to be operated as self-service,” the plans says. “There can be maps, displays and interactive screens with up-to-date information on activities, events and attractions in Uptown.”
The plan suggests 10 initial projects that include:
• Create a lighting plan
• Establish a public art committee/murals/public art
• Wayfinding and gateways
• Rewrite zoning codes and create design guidelines for infill/new development, renovation and adaptive reuse of buildings in the Uptown Core
• Establish a Business Improvement District
• Intersection and pedestrian safety improvements at Main Street and Montana Street intersections from Galena Street to Granite Street
• Market vacant buildings
• Market Uptown as unique destination
• Develop the Original Mine Yard to be a full-time public park
• Develop an Uptown Core welcome center
The document also includes a chapter on ways to implement the plan and who should take the lead on certain goals. It begins with establishment of the implementation team.
Byrnes acknowledges that some of the suggestions and recommendations have been covered in previous studies. They were good ideas then and now, she said, and this plan builds off of some of those.
But this plan is the first of its kind geared specifically toward Uptown Butte, Byrnes said, and there is an action plan for putting it into motion.
The Master Plan Steering Committee is an active group that has formed a nonprofit organization and its members, along with Butte-Silver Bow and others, are committed to following through in the short-term and long-term, she said.
During the Zoom presentation this week, Joe Willauer, executive director of the Butte Local Development Corp., said months and months of work had gone into the plan and it’s being finalized at a time when investment and development in Butte is high.
At council this week, Commissioner O’Neill applauded the plan.
“Everybody in this room here goes out of town to other places and sees the beauty and everybody’s like, ‘Oh gosh, I wish we had that in Butte,’” he said. “You have to have a plan about this. …We’ve got to keep an open mind and be positive about this.”
Byrnes made similar statements to council.
“There are communities in the state of Montana that have streets that look like these visions and they were done in those Montana cities,” she said. “We are unique and special in a lot of ways but we deserve the same great things.”
But there are still concerns among some about follow-through.
Commissioner Sorich recalled a grand 30-year improvement plan for the Greeley Neighborhood, which is in his district, released a decade ago. It was full of great ideas, he said, but “just kind of got shelved.”
“I really hope we can keep our eye on the ball and keep this moving and not let it fall between the cracks,” he said.
Fisher said he hopes good things come from the plan but still has some pragmatic concerns.
“We’ve got out-of-state people coming into our community telling us what they think is going to work for us, and I just hope they understand the demographics of our community with such things as the prerelease Uptown and the mental health thing Uptown and reconstruction of certain buildings Uptown,” Fisher said Friday.
And, he said, “I just hope it’s not put on a shelf when it’s all done and forgot about like a lot of things we have studied around here.”
To view the draft plan and submit comments, go to: https://uptownbuttemasterplan.com/

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Government and Politics Reporter
Mike Smith is a reporter at the Montana Standard with an emphasis on government and politics.
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Here is one rendering of a gateway to Uptown Butte that incorporates recommendations from a draft Uptown Master Plan unveiled this week.
The parking lot at Hamilton and Broadway could become a public plaza space for day -to-day use as well as events, as this rendering in an Uptown Master Plan depicts.
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