Vision for Brooks Street transformation still alive and inching forward

The Brooks Street corridor. (Missoula Current file photo)

A community goal of transforming Brooks Street into something more than a 1970s relic packed with cars and nearly impossible to cross on foot isn’t dead, the head of the Missoula Redevelopment Agency said.

In fact, a plan to transform the corridor remains alive and consultants informing the project are expected in town this week to help move it forward.

“It continues to be a challenge, but I think we’re making good progress,” said MRA Director Ellen Buchanan. “Working with our consultants, we’re going to try and really identify what we want from them as a final product.”

Efforts to transform the corridor go back years, though it was in 2015 that a coalition of groups, including the Missoula City Council, MRA and Mountain Line, attended a workshop on the issue hosted by the Sonoran Institute.

In conjunction with the Missoula Midtown Association, the review took a deep look at the entire corridor with an eye on 15-minute bus service, more housing and increased mix-use density. It also considered the pedestrian experience and how to move people around by foot given the amount of traffic and pattern of poorly planned development.

“I’ll tell you we’re being aspirational,” Buchanan said. “We’re not going to try and put a bunch of Bandaids on Brooks in hopes that people will try to cross the street. It’s going to take a lot of effort to make it happen.”

New Mobility West – a team of consultants contracted by the city – released its Brooks Street Corridor Study in 2017 after gathering public input.

Among other things, the plan acknowledges the district’s challenges, such as underutilized properties and its auto-oriented design. Aside from the steady stream of traffic, so-called “mega blocks” like Southgate Mall and the fairgrounds hinder connectivity.

The district encompasses much of south Missoula and is home to 16,000 people and 7,500 households. Roughly 2,000 businesses occupy the area, employing 17,000 workers

“We need to try and do this while we still have an urban renewal district in that area so we can go after large amounts of money and provide a match for that,” Buchanan said. “Otherwise, Brooks will look pretty much like it does today 30 years from now, or 50 years from now. It’s been a big effort and it’s a hard one.”

Those who attended a workshop ahead of the study’s release envisioned a range of changes for the corridor, including mid-rise housing, more amenities, restaurants and better connectivity. At least one housing project for the area is planned, and several new businesses are on tap to open, including Bridge Pizza’s new Midtown location.

“One of the challenges for the groups trying to identify the ultimate project, the idea is to eliminate a lot of the challenges trying to cross Brooks for the neighborhoods that live there and the people who travel along it,” said MRA board member Ruth Reineking.

Buchanan said the contract with the city’s consultants has roughly $40,000 left in the coffers. The process must move toward completion and final implementation, she said.

“How do you put frequent transit service on Brooks in a meaningful way?” she said. “The way it functions today, can you really have 15-minute service there? You probably can except for peak hours. Those are some of the challenges we’ve been working on.”