At least 70 business owners and residents of Uptown Butte settled on four primary goals for improving the area in just a two-hour brainstorming session Monday night.
With help from a facilitator from the state, they narrowed lots of ideas into four broad targets: enhancing public safety, cleaning up the streets and buildings, promoting Uptown, and developing a master plan going forward.
The state facilitator, Patrick Sullivan, then asked everyone to sign their names under one of the goals and pledge to work on the issue in the coming weeks. Many did so.
“If you don’t get at least five people to work on something, nothing happens,” said Sullivan, director of the state’s Professional Development Center.
Dave Palmer, Butte-Silver Bow’s chief executive, hoped the meeting at the Thornton Building was the first step toward Uptown business owners essentially taxing themselves to make area improvements.
Several Montana cities have a "business improvement district" where at least 60 percent of business owners agree to levy property taxes and spend the money on maintenance, security, promotions, landscaping, or other improvements.
“I think it’s a great start,” Palmer said of the meeting.
Past efforts to create an Uptown business improvement district have failed, in part because of mistrust between different groups.
Sullivan had everyone break into groups of six or seven and come up with visions for the “feel” they want Uptown to have. Then they were asked to come up with specific ideas for change.
Bart Wackerbarth, who owns a network security business called Regulus Technologies, said his group wanted Uptown to be “a place where people come and spend time,” not just visit one store and leave.
Others wanted to play up the historical features of Uptown, make people feel safe, and give it a “bustling” atmosphere.
The specific suggestions for change included more police patrols, fixing broken windows, cleaning up alleys, putting flower baskets along the streets, decorating trash cans, and beefing up code enforcement.
Luke Davis, owner of Miller's Shoes, said his group wanted more green spaces. They could be created by tearing down a few of the many vacant buildings Uptown, his group suggested.
Two others later objected to that, although a few others said they agreed with the idea. It has been a contentious issue in Butte for decades.
Commissioner John Morgan said he was glad to see the meeting end with people pledging to work on the goals.
“A lot of people think it’s only the government’s job to do what they are talking about here, but it starts with the people,” he said. “This gets them to put some skin in the game.”
Palmer said the same kind of effort could be undertaken for the Flat if residents and business owners there want it. It was not, he said, an Uptown vs. downtown exercise.