Belgrade publishes plan to invest in downtown

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Belgrade has published a long-term plan for improving and investing in the area around Main Street.

The Downtown Design Plan is the culmination of an effort by the city and Cushing Terrell, a Bozeman consulting firm, “to focus limited resources on impactful projects to spur economic development that benefits the people of Belgrade, visitors and business owners,” according to the document, which can be viewed at beheardbelgrade.com.

The city is now accepting feedback on the document, and the planning board will review it on Monday.

The Downtown Design Plan details numerous projects, including the addition of a parking lot south of Main Street between Kennedy and Davis streets, an update to zoning regulations to allow for higher density and mixed-use development, the addition of green spaces and bike lanes, the creation of a truck route to bypass Main Street and the addition of lighting, trees and other amenities to downtown streets.

“It’s very visionary and obviously very aspirational,” said Planning Director Jason Karp at a recent planning meeting. “But we plan to do what we can and hope the private sector comes along as well.”

The plan also suggests Belgrade better understand the city’s current conditions through additional analyses like a traffic assessment and research on how to create a railroad quiet zone or an historic district, both of which could enhance future development.

Improvements outlined in the plan could cost more than $16 million.

Some of the funding will come from tax increment financing, a tool that allows the allocation of revenue from property taxes to support development in the Belgrade Urban Renewal District, an area around Main Street. The city could also fund some of the projects by partnering with a local downtown association or applying to the state’s Main Street Grant Program, which helps towns preserve their historic centers.

The Downtown Design Plan stemmed from the creation of the Belgrade Urban Renewal District in 2017, a designation that enabled the city to focus on the redevelopment and rehabilitation of downtown.

To create the plan, Cushing Terrell interviewed local organizations, spoke with downtown business owners, conducted an online survey and hosted a virtual open house.

Work on the downtown plan occurred as Belgrade was updating its growth policy, which focuses on directing growth to areas within or near city boundaries to use infrastructure efficiently and to preserve open space and agricultural land.

In recent years, Belgrade has emphasized long-term planning in response to rapid growth. The city has nearly doubled in size since 2000. In the last two years, the city, which now has about 10,500 residents, has added about 400 dwelling units annually, a sizable number for a small city.

“When you’ve lived in Belgrade for a number of years, you look at the downtown plan and go, ‘Wow, this is what we could be,’” said Planning Board Member Elizabeth Marum at a recent meeting. “It really is inspiring, but it is within our reach and now is the time to do it.”

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