Urban Renewal In Hamilton, Montana?

by William Skink

As I put together last Saturday’s post about gentrification in Missoula I noticed that the information I was most interested in was often at the end of, or near the end of, the article. The phrase that describes this phenomenon is “burying the lede”.

A local media piece in the Missoulian today about a national media piece in the Washington Post about Hamilton, Montana caught my attention. Not because a national rag was able to find Hamilton, Montana on the map and not because Hamilton seems to be bucking the trend of dying small towns.

No, what got my attention was the part of the article where Hamilton’s Mayor, Dominic Farrenkopf, talked about how he would like to see Hamilton grow, and, more specifically, what mechanisms are being considered to prime that growth:

Hamilton’s 40-year-old mayor, Dominic Farrenkopf, told the Post he’d like to see Hamilton grow by another 1,000.

On Tuesday, Farrenkopf said that’s right as long those new folks arrive over the next 15 to 20 years.

“I think growing responsibly is really important,” Farrenkopf said. “We have a lot of good things happening here and there is potential for more… But the key is that growth needs to happen slowly and responsibly.”

Working with the city council and county commission, Farrenkopf is encouraged by moves to create an urban renewal district and a separate opportunity zone in the community that could unlock potential for new light industry in Hamilton, with its promise of good paying jobs.

I’m sure Farrenkopf is encouraged. Developers and Real Estate peddlers are also probably salivating. But there’s a little problem: where exactly is the urban blight in Hamilton to warrant a URD? The article points out that downtown Hamilton is doing great and boasts not one vacant storefront downtown. To renew an urban district there needs to be something to renew. That is the “blight” the URD is designed to address.

While conventional thinking seems to view almost all growth as good, the notion that good paying jobs will automatically follow development needs to be critically examined. More growth and more people creates more demand for government services. If Hamilton starts going down the URD road its citizens could find themselves in a similar boat as their northern neighbors in Zoo Town, footing higher tax bills so developers can get sidewalks built for their project with public money.

Beware of what your elected leaders are planning, citizens of Hamilton. Missoula should be a cautionary example of how the mechanisms of priming growth can get out of control. You’ve been warned.

About Travis Mateer

I'm an artist and citizen journalist living and writing in Montana. You can contact me here: willskink at yahoo dot com
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