Why Is Missoula Giving Away Public Space For Private Use?

by jhwygirl

Dan Brooks has an opinion piece in the Missoula Independent asking “Why is the city giving up public parking spaces to a private biz?”

Good question. And boy has this been a little pet-peeve of mine, given I live in dead-end, abandoned streets and alley neighborhood hell. Something, incidentally, many government agencies consider a sign of blight.

It doesn’t seem that this is the exact case here. Brooks indicates the bar making the application – the Thomas Meagher Bar next to City Council Chambers, btw – through the administrative process meant for signs and awnings. Wow – sure would be interested to see the County Attorney Jim Nugent or City Development Services opinion that stretched signs and awnings to patios with patrons and table service.

And to be clear here, Brooks goes on to explain the proposal includes constructing sidewalk area over public parking spaces not only adjacent to City Council Chambers and Missoula Redevelopment Agency, but also across the street from the administrative offices and meeting room for the Board of County Commissioners and County Surveyor’s Office.

Does it matter if it’s an encroachment permit with some twisted interpretation of something meant for signs and awnings? Or if it were a permanent abandonment of public right of way? One word – NO. And what in the world are they thinking up there in that bubble a few select call City Hall?

For me, this just another example of the City’s decade-long sustained and misguided attempts at economic development. Throw anything on the wall and give it some flashy words and a good well-liked consultant/contractor. The proposal touts the creation of a “vibrant downtown atmosphere” and compares the it to the outdoor plaza at the old Carnegie Library – Missoula’s Art Museum.

Brooks rightly calls BS on that.

Sounds like the project is being guided by a certain ABC engineering firm that gets an awful lot of the city and county public works projects….

There are twenty ways to wrong about this proposal, and Brooks covers just about all of them. This proposal doesn’t even take public opinion into account, even though public space is being relinquished.

Will we do this for every bar that asks? The Mo Club would be awesome, no? What about restaurants? Coffee shops? How about some slot machines? What about lap dancing shows? Will it be a race to the finish, with City Hall coming to the hard decision sometime in the future that they’ve given up too many spaces? Who will scream “Unfair!” first?

I do imagine city snow plow drivers just LOVE this proposal, too. Which does have one wonder how much real vibrancy downtown will get when this isn’t Miami, you know?

Or maybe there will be those lovely outdoor propane heaters blasting away for 8 months out of the year? So much for global warming concerns….

If the Thomas Meager Bar wants outdoor space, buy it. Just like the Iron Horse did. There’s plenty of space available downtown that could use some real economic development – and there’s even an architect or two that does some fabulous work with old buildings. Of course, the Thomas Meagher has put a ton of cash into the place in the last few years, and I’m sure that’s part of their pitch. Maybe they should have thought that out originally instead of trying to thrust their own expansion plans on to pubic space.

There’s an irony here for anyone that remembers the US Supreme Court Kelo case – as now we have a private party wanting to take public property for economic gain…and it’s all being justified in the name of economic development and a “vibrant” downtown.

Brooks is calling for a public hearing on the matter. I agree. Hopefully someone on City Council will realize the lunacy of the proposal and at least give the public an opportunity to a hearing.

Only in Missoula would we invent a new twist to eminent domain.


  1. Steve W

    Great article jhwygirl. I just read it because i never come by here anymore since they kicked out the rest of the talent.

    hope things are going well with you!

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