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Good News for Downtown

| January 30, 2007 11:00 PM

Charles McFarland's job takes him to downtown Libby daily.

An advertising sales representative for The Westerns News, McFarland - with his black leather planner in hand - always walks when calling on Mineral Avenue merchants. No matter what the weather.

Over the past two years, he's seen some nice changes in the scenery.

Owners of Cabinet Mountain Chevrolet Pontiac, Timberline Auto Center, Shoes & Socks, Mark's Magic Carpets and Cabinet Mountain Furniture are only a few that have spruced up the exterior of their Mineral Avenue buildings.

McFarland also for three years has listened to discussions between Libby City Council and Libby Revitalization Inc. - now renamed Libby Main Street Program - about a separate project to spruce up the downtown.

The original $7 million proposal called for developing a more attractive pedestrian friendly environment with sidewalk dining, art displays, hanging flower baskets, and improved business and way-finding signs. It also included restoring the railroad depot at the end of Mineral Avenue, building entry monuments, landscaping and narrowing crosswalks.

Retailers, however, balked at sharing the costs, which were estimated at $75 to $100 for every foot of Mineral Avenue frontage.

You can't blame them. It's a gamble.

After a stalemate, Libby City Council on Monday night hosted a meeting to revisit the issue. More than 50 attended.

There was a consensus for a project that involves new lighting, new sidewalks where needed, signage and Todd Berget's metal sculptured eagles.

Property owners also seemed to think a $25 contribution for each foot of property frontage toward the scaled-back project would be a good place to start.

The meeting left Libby mayor Tony Berget pleased, especially since one project opponent, Mineral Avenue certified public accountant Wayne Hirst, agreed on a $25 contribution.

"You got Wayne Hirst saying he would be okay with the $25 SID (Special Improvement District)," Berget said. "We got the consensus on these items."

McFarland, who no doubt for months has heard from merchants who favor and oppose any project, also liked what he heard.

"Just the fact that everyone was talking and listening," McFarland said. "That's a good thing. I left the room feeling pretty positive."

- Gwen Albers