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Meeting set on streetscape

| January 11, 2007 11:00 PM

By BRENT SHRUM Western News Editor

Downtown Libby property owners will be getting an opportunity later this month to make their opinions heard on a proposed makeover of the business district.

The city council will hold a special meeting at 6 p.m. Monday, Jan. 29, in the First National Bank meeting room to gather input on the streetscape proposal. Commissioned by Libby Revitalization Inc. - now renamed Libby Main Street Program - the planned renovation includes developing a more attractive pedestrian friendly environment with features like sidewalk dining, art displays, hanging flower baskets, and improved business and way-finding signs. Plans also call for restoring the railroad depot at the end of Mineral Avenue, building entry monuments, landscaping along streets and narrowing crosswalks.

Original estimates put the cost of the project at more than $7 million. Libby Main Street board member Trent Oleberg noted at Monday night's city council meeting that through discussions between his board and council members, a "downsized" version has been identified with an estimated cost of around $3 million. Creation of a special improvement district, which would levy an assessment on downtown properties based on street frontage, has been proposed as a potential source of funding for the project.

Oleberg pointed out that the city council has approved of the plan in concept and last June selected a Missoula engineering firm to draw up specifications.

"We're now seven months from that and as of today you haven't funded that engineering firm," Oleberg said.

Libby Main Street wants the city "to hit a home run" with the project, "But you can't hit a home run until you get up to the plate," Oleberg said.

Mayor Tony Berget said he thought the city had decided to meet with downtown property owners before hiring the engineers. Councilwoman Charlene Leckrone agreed. Oleberg and fellow Main Street board member Bobby Whitefield said they thought the engineering contract was supposed to come first.

Berget said the city doesn't want to invest in the $92,000 engineering contract before hearing from affected property owners.

"I'm a little leery to write that check before we get a feel," he said.

Oleberg also told the council his organization plans to ask the city for funding for another year of operation. In 2003, the council approved a $300,000 grant for Libby Revitalization in three annual installments of $100,000, with funding coming from the city's $8 million federal economic development grant. Last August, the council approved a request from LRI to spend the balance of $35,416.20 remaining in its account.