MOVES LIKE JAGGER — Jagger Hofstad slides across the stage to high five the large crowd during the Boy Scouts’ Air Band Concert. His band, and pack, jams along behind him. The money raised from the concert will go towards the purchase of a new digital projection system in the Orpheum Theatre/Weigand Auditorium. I-O Photo by Deanna Wakkinen
By Deanna Wakkinen, I-O Reporter
The Conrad Area Chamber of Commerce welcomed special guest speaker Mary Klette, of Nelson Architects in Great Falls, during their monthly meeting on Wednesday.
Klette presented to the board different obstacles that face downtown areas and especially small towns in today’s economical and technological advances.
One of the first challenges to downtown businesses came as residents of small towns were exposed to easy transportation. The ease of getting in the car and traveling to a big box store in Great Falls, for example, hurts small town businesses that pay more to sell goods that larger stores can receive at discounts due to mass purchases.
Another trial for downtown came as strip malls moved in. Consumers can simply drive to one place for their convenience. Now, simply sit down at your computer, and the world is at your fingertips.
Klette emphasized these obstacles and addressed ways that bigger cities as well as other small towns in Montana are combating new trends with enhanced downtown environments. The first issue, according to Klette, that must be addressed is that a downtown area must be pedestrian friendly. It must boast areas for resting, safe and clean sidewalks away from heavy traffic and 18 hours a day of availability for service.
Ways to achieve a pedestrian environment include minimal empty store fronts, signage, interactive opportunities and aesthetic consistency.
When a pedestrian is walking through a downtown area and comes to a large empty store front, the general consensus would be that the downtown area is over and to turn around. Keeping buildings full of high traffic activity is essential.
Appropriate signage is important for safety reasons but also so that businesses can easily be identified and is appealing. Having an aesthetic consistency is important so that the downtown area flows, is easy to identify and is attractive to consumers.
Klette specifically mentioned the town of Ennis. Ennis has established a downtown plan that is consistent with a cowboy town atmosphere. Businesses teamed up with local banks and were able to finance their improvements in an affordable manner that has turned their downtown area into a destination.
Klette stressed that in the state of the economy, it may not always be practical, especially in a town as small as Conrad, to remodel the entire downtown area. She suggested starting small. Removing updated, yet cluttering overhangs and window coverings would declutter business fronts and return them to the way they may have looked in their prime.
Another suggestion was to implement covenants that would determine guidelines for future renovations and development.
The first step to any downtown assessment would be to determine Conrad’s identity. Is Conrad another cowboy town? Maybe Conrad is more of the historic downtown type? Conrad Mayor Wendy Judisch and Cheryl Curry of the Port Authority have met with Klette and are discussing downtown options.
In other business at the Chamber meeting, eight applications have been received for the deputy position in the Conrad Police Department. The Pondera County Sheriff’s Office is also seeking to hire one deputy and one dispatcher.
Larry Goyette has been hired as administrator of the Pondera Center. He is also an area minister.
The Conrad Orpheum Theatre/Weigand Auditorium is seeking $5,000 in matching funds to order a new digital projection system. The theatre will be unable to show movies in the future without the upgrade.
The Conrad Public Library had 2,200 visitors during the month of January and had 1,000 computer users. They were awarded a leader grant which totaled $1,500 which was used to purchase new books.