Dept. of Commerce talk focuses on building a better Hardin

By: 
Andrew Turck / Big Horn County News
Thursday, July 5, 2018

Photo by Andrew Turck

Tash Wisemiller, Main Street Program coordinator for the Montana Department of Commerce, speaks to local residents at 3 Brothers Bistro in Hardin on the subject of community-wide collaboration for city improvement.

Nearly 25 people gathered at 3 Brothers Bistro in Hardin recently in an attempt to spark ideas and plans for bettering their surrounding community. Aiding them in this pursuit was Tash Wisemiller, Main Street Program coordinator for the Montana Department of Commerce in Helena.

Speaking before a slide projector that detailed success stories within the program, Wisemiller said the improvement of one’s local area wasn’t a one-person show, but rather relied on collaboration among the residents. Each improvement, he said, was best done with an eye for how it would help the community as a whole rather than by just “[throwing] things at the wall to see what sticks.”

Efforts driven by just one or a few people without an overarching goal in mind, he continued, inevitably burn out over the years.

“Main Street maintains membership through the city, but that doesn’t mean the mayor is doing all that work,” Wisemiller said. “Usually, there’s a delegation to locallyinvolved organizations and it’s a communitywide conversation.

“Economic development, historic preservation, tourism, planning, city leadership and the chamber – all of those things work in tandem.”

Grants averaging about $10,000 will be available for local projects through the Department of Commerce, he said, though the organization hasn’t set a date for when they will become available yet.

The Department’s largest grant thus far, has been $20,000 for Roundup, Montana’s Downtown Master Plan, which was implemented in 2016. As described on the Department’s website, the Master Plan was used “to forward a broad vision and goals in downtown revitalization, historic rehabilitation, economic development and long-range community planning.”

Sometimes, projects could include the revitalization of older buildings, as was done in Roundup, Wisemiller said. Other times, he continued, a project could attempt to increase business traffic, as was done by Mighty Mo Brewery in Great Falls when they offered an outdoor dining space. Through that move alone, according to Wisemiller, Mighty Mo’s increased their customer base by 20 percent.

On a local level, Two Rivers Authority Executive Director Jeff McDowell and Hardin resident Carla Colstad put together a map of the city for tourists. According to Colstad, who works parttime at the local Super 8 Motel, she gives away hundreds of these maps per week that show tourists “any place people would need to go or want to go while they’re here.”

“We all need to be able to say to people, ‘Yes, you can go to this restaurant,’” Colstad said. “I had a lady…who had a kid who had an accident and was bleeding so badly, I had to show her how to get to the hospital. I grabbed the map and she flew out the door with him.”

According to Colstad, the city needs directional signs “that say, ‘You are here, but downtown is that way.”

Along Center Avenue in downtown Hardin, the River Valley Farmer’s Market will be opening for its third consecutive year. According to Shelly Sutherland, chief community development coordinator for Bighorn Valley Health Center, the farmer’s market will be held each Thursday from 5-7 p.m. during the month of August.

Sutherland, who also serves as a coordinator for the Healthy Hardin Coalition, intends to work toward improving the city’s streets and sidewalks “to connect people with places they need to go.”

That way, she continued, local residents would have a healthier alternative when compared to driving to each location. So far, according to Sutherland, Healthy Hardin has run into “a lot of dead ends” regarding pathway construction, but she hopes they improve upon the situation.

“I hope we can work our way back to a safe and accessible streets and alleys resolution,” she said. “That actually would help us to work with other agencies in the state, such as the Montana Department of Transportation.”

A resolution, she said, basically would state, “Our community is committed to promoting walking and biking, along with motorized transit,” and would obligate MDT to work with Hardin on new developments to that effect.

“Kids can walk to school; people can walk to work; people can walk to shopping; [and] people can walk to recreation areas, parks and playgrounds,” she said.

Thus, with the help of Colstad and McDowell’s map, a visitor to Hardin presumably could walk or bike down improved sidewalks in the future to visit the River Valley Farmer’s Market during the summer.

To accomplish a community-wide vision, Wisemiller concluded, takes small steps as part of a plan to a greater whole. Once one step is finished, he continued, it’s time to find the next “puzzle piece.”

“If you don’t prioritize your town,” Wisemiller said, “someone else will not prioritize it for you.”

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