Streetlights, utilities for club just some of city needs

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One idea for TIF monies is to improve streetlights on Nucleus Avenue. (Chris Peterson photo)

New streetlights for Nucleus Avenue. Help save the old red bridge. Use a grant to pay for utility hookups for a new Boys and Girls Club.

Those were just some of the ideas for community needs at a public hearing Jan. 6 in front of the Columbia Falls City Council.

O’Brien Byrd of the Columbia Falls Community Foundation made a pitch for improved and attractive streetlights on Nucleus Avenue. Byrd said the streetlights would not only be aesthetically pleasing, but they would make crossing Highway 2 and other streets on Nucleus Avenue safer for pedestrians.

Resident Greg Fortin made a pitch to use some funding to improve the red bridge.

“I think it’s a valuable thing our community can look at,” he said.

Folks over the years have tried and ultimately failed at having the iconic bridge restored, because funding has never come through.

Mayor Don Barnhart pointed out however that the bridge is owned by the county, not the city.

Fortin also said the city could help facilitate a direct bus route from Columbia falls to Whitefish. Right now, he said, a person has to take a bus to Kalispell and then go to Whitefish.

Speaking on behalf of the Boys and Girls Club, banker Don Bennett made a pitch to use Community Development Block Grant program funds to help pay for utility hookups to a proposed Boys and Girls Club that’s planned adjacent to Ruder Elementary. The club is in the process of trying to raise more than $5 million for the project.

Bennett also suggested the city consider a longer -term plan to add a parking garage for downtown.

Businessman Dave Petersen claimed the city should use about $14,000 in tax increment financing funds to pay off the bill for the Nucleus Avenue monuments.

Petersen and Barnhart had a testy exchange for a few moments on the ask. This is not the first time Petersen has claimed the city should foot the bill, even though the Community Foundation, which spearheaded the project, has said in the past that it would pay the balance itself.

Barnhart donated a significant amount of his own time and resources to dig the foundations for the monuments.

The city has a balance of about $472,500 in TIF funding for projects in the district. Council made no decisions on what to fund this year. In the past it’s used the money for wayfinding signs and to rebuild streets and pedestrian crossings on Nucleus Avenue.

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