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Council, LRI revisiting revitalization

| September 15, 2006 12:00 AM

By GWEN ALBERS Western News Reporter

Libby City Council and Libby Revitalization Inc. on Monday discussed revisiting downtown merchants about a proposed $7.5 million improvement project.

They hope to convince property owners to go along with the project. Under the current plan, they would have to pay $75 to $100 per foot of street frontage.

City council and LRI remain committed to some type of project, for which grants are expected to cover the bulk of the cost.

"I'm committed to doing everything I possibly can to add value to this community," said LRI board member Bobby Whitefield. "

"I think we are on even ground," added board member Trent Oelberg.

The current plan calls for developing a more attractive pedestrian friendly environment with things like sidewalk dining, art displays, hanging flower baskets, and improved business and way-finding signs.

The plans also calls for restoring the Amtrak railroad depot at the end of Mineral Avenue, building entry monuments, landscaping along streets and narrowing crosswalks.

Mayor Tony Berget believes there's enough support for the project, commissioned by LRI, a non-profit organization committed to revitalizing the business district along Mineral and California avenues. City council had earlier endorsed the project.

"Almost everyone I talk to is interested in some downtown improvements," Berget said.

Mary Devlin, owner of Shoes and Socks at 308 Mineral Ave., stressed "we all need to work together."

"There's enough product and enough people out there and we could all do well."

Whitefield agrees.

"I retired here five years ago," he said. "We are committed to Libby. In the past 14 months, I have purchased $60,000 worth of goods and services here. I'm not bragging. I believe in Libby."

A $7.5 million project may overwhelm some people, said city clerk Chris Erickson.

"If you scaled it down some (that could help)," Erickson said. "Some business owners are worried it will become like Coeur D'Alene. Maybe we should start with something low key like planters and sidewalks."

LRI also asked council for leadership on the project.

"We believe we need a streetscape and we can't do it alone. We need to work together," Oelberg said. "We are looking for leadership in our community when we decide to step up to the plate."

In related news, LRI asked council if it would fund the agency for another five years. Operating costs are $45,000 annually, said board member Tom Wood.

"That's a tough question," Berget said. "I will have to go to council. We are super tight. We have so many things going on."

"We can't really make a commitment," added Councilman Doug Roll. "We would have to have a council meeting."