by Travis Mateer
When I saw Ellie Boldman warning her fellow legislators about NOT putting tourism dollars on the chopping block, I figured a quick scan of the program she was defending was in order, since back in 2021 Ellie and her husband double-dipped from a limited Covid relief fund. Here is Boldman (formerly Smith, and formerly Hill) defending tourism dollars (emphasis mine):
Sen. Ellie Boldman, D-Missoula, listed several programs that would get the ax. Using the Main Street Montana grants as an example, she warned her colleagues that hadn’t heard of the program: “If you pass this bill, you’re going to hear about it real quick.”
She rattled off a list of cities and towns that had received the grants — “and let me assure you, there’s no Missoula or Bozeman or Billings on the list.” The program helped steer visitors to small businesses and hotels while funding historic plazas and way-finding signs in Havre, Whitehall, Shelby, Roundup, Glendive, Baker, Ekalaka, Red Lodge, Glasgow and Lincoln, Boldman said.
My emphasis highlights an aspect of the TIF conversation I didn’t get to fully listen to after providing my testimony in Helena earlier this week, and much of that focused on Missoula specifically, but also the two other cities referenced by Boldman. Since Missoula (Ellie’s adopted hometown) is one of the main reasons TIF handcuffs are being legislatively designed, it’s a little ironic the Main Street Montana program she’s defending was used in one rural Montana town to actually CREATE an Urban Renewal District.
Here’s a screenshot from the program’s projects page listing the creation of a URD as an appropriate use of tourist tax dollars (emphasis mine):
Yes, TIF is so integrated into the fabric of our conversations about growth, it’s even popping up in the back and forth between opponents of the downtown “safety and mobility” project and the Mayor’s office. From the link (emphasis mine):
The signatories wrote that they are confused why the Missoula Redevelopment Agency is managing these projects, because much of the impacted areas are not in Urban Renewal Districts.
“The business owners feel that the City, and our elected representatives, not the MRA, need to be more engaged in this process,” they wrote. “While there are good people at the MRA, it is an unelected board, with unelected ofﬁcers that are not accountable to the business constituency.”
They again requested a big town hall meeting that’s open to the public to address their concerns. They also want a pause on planning efforts and asked that the Montana Department of Transportation pause the application process for the federal grant.
“We again request that the City and MRA stop conducting small-group meetings in which attendees are handpicked, presented carefully crafted messages and the ‘ﬁndings’ are ‘synthesized’ by a City and MRA that appear committed only to the existing approach,” the letter concluded.
How much does it suck to be the director of the Missoula Redevelopment Agency right now? The smaller communities around Montana that might be able to have success with this economic tool are probably very frustrated that good babies might get tossed out with dirty bathwater if this legislation moves forward successfully.
Stay tuned for how this phase of the TIF saga will play out, and, later today, get ready for the second report coming from my TIF (Travis’ Impact Fund). If that work doesn’t appeal to you, there’s always the donation button at my about page.
Thanks for reading!