Montana Main Street Renaissance

Reviving identity and sense of place in Montana's small towns

MPA is delighted and so excited to announce a partnership with the Montana Business Assistance Connection (MBAC) to make downtown revitalization happen in four rural Montana towns. With a grant from the Steele Reese Foundation, MPA and MBAC will work with East Helena, Townsend, Augusta, and White Sulphur Springs in a community-driven heritage development process that MPA is rolling out statewide to revitalize struggling historic towns.

Every year, MPA fields appeals from people in small, rural communities hoping to save historic buildings and breathe life back into deteriorating downtowns. Historic downtowns in our region face struggles such as remote location, depopulation, lack of funding, and loss of community identity tied to a sense of place. We believe in the resiliency of small town Montana, and believe that preserving historic properties within these towns can truly give new life to places that face an uncertain future.

Vacant buildings are both a symptom and a cause of serious civic decline, and our project will offer critical intervention through which communities will receive training, inventory their assets, identify properties they hope to save, assess their potential to meet community needs, analyze building deficiencies, assess feasibility of redevelopment, outline preservation plans, identify funds and financial incentives, and establish partner relationships with rural development groups.

Since 1999, MBAC has worked with Augusta, Townsend, East Helena, and White Sulphur Springs to expand the economic picture in the region, and together MBAC and MPA have already connected with community leaders in these towns and visited at-risk buildings: the Parberry Block, Ringling Mansion and MT Central Railroad Depot in White Sulphur Springs; Augusta Hotel in Augusta; the Northern Pacific railroad depot in East Helena; and the Power Block and Berg Building in Townsend.

Our project will also wrap in outreach efforts underway by our cultural partners– Red Ants Pants in White Sulphur Springs (celebrating rural communities, women, music and traditional building skills) and Myrna Loy Center in East Helena (culinary arts and story-telling). And to marry all these efforts together, MPA will also bring our biennial conference, the Montana Preservation Road Show, to the White Sulphur Springs area in June 2020 to showcase history and preservation efforts during three-days of tours and talks all around the region. 

Taken together, this will expand the capacity of rural Montana towns to identify heritage development opportunities, create community-specific redevelopment strategies, and launch redevelopment of key properties empowering communities to build their future upon the foundation of their past. Each heritage property successfully redeveloped will pave the road to economic health and open the doorway to more economic and cultural opportunities.