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Consensus found on downtown revitalization

| January 30, 2007 11:00 PM

By GWEN ALBERS Western News Reporter

Consensus was in the air during a Monday night meeting for sprucing up Libby's downtown.

Mineral Avenue property owners seemed to like the idea of a scaled-back project that includes new street lights, new sidewalks where needed, gateway signage and eagles.

The project would cost far less than the original $7 million proposal that included restoring the railroad depot at the end of Mineral Avenue, building entry monuments, landscaping and narrowing crosswalks.

"Everyone agrees - lights, sidewalks where needed, signage," said Libby Mayor Tony Berget, who moderated the meeting hosted by the city council.

Keli McQuiston, a field representative for Montana Congressman Denny Rehberg, told the 50 people at the meeting there's a possibility that federal money would be available.

Nearly one year ago, many downtown property owners opposed the $7 million proposal, which would have required them to help pay for the Mineral Avenue improvements. The renovation also included developing a more attractive pedestrian friendly environment with features like sidewalk dining, art displays, hanging flower baskets, and improved business and way-finding signs.

The proposal was commissioned by Libby Revitalization Inc. - now renamed Libby Main Street Program.

The Main Street board in early January told council a "downsized" version has been identified with an estimated $3 million cost. It was reviewed during Monday's meeting.

Terry Andreessen, owner of Timberline Auto Center, questioned the high cost.

Andreessen also suggested placing six of Todd Berget's metal sculptured eagles on each side of Mineral Avenue and one larger eagle at the end. Berget, a teacher for Libby Public Schools, has one such eagle near the city's Highway 2 South entry.

"I guarantee people will drive downtown to see them," Andreessen said.

"I like Terry's idea," added Wayne Hirst, a Mineral Avenue accountant who opposed the original $7 million plan.

Libby Councilman Stu Crismore threw out some numbers for downtown property owners to consider.

"There's 5,000 feet of frontage in the downtown district," Crismore said. "If we assess $100 (per foot of frontage on each property), that $500,000. Those are hard figures you can work with. Where's your threshold?"

"$100 a foot is a killer," Hirst said. "That's $1,200 for me."

A $25 cap seemed acceptable for some in the room.

"I think $25 is a nice place to start," said Jerry Hersman, owner of Rocky Mountain Music and Collectibles on Mineral Avenue. "If we like it, we'll do another $25. Baby steps."

Some also expressed a need to move forward with a project.

"I'm tired of everyone fighting and nothing happening," Hirst said. "I don't want to get into that situation here."

He stressed not bringing up the past.

"Libby's going to grow," Hirst said. "I don't want to transform the downtown. There's a difference between transforming and fixing up."

Tom Wood, a downtown business owner for 35 years and president of First National Insurance in Libby, also spoke.

"I talk to people every day," Wood said. "We all need to collaborate. I'm so sick and tired of 'us versus them.' As a community, we need to get our poop together."

Todd Berget also touched on Andreessen's idea for placing eagles in the downtown.

"There's such a huge amount of people in this country drawn to eagles," he said. "We have eagles in Libby."

City council will now discuss hiring an engineer for the project. The engineer is needed to qualify for grants.