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Blight & Beauty In Havre: Beauty

This is Part 2 of a 2-part series on Havre’s blight problems and how residents are working to beautify their town. Read Part 1 here.

Havre residents want to bring a shine to the Jewel of the Hi-Line.

“Our community could benefit from some color,” said Debbie Vandeberg, a Havre resident and former executive director of the Havre Area Chamber of Commerce.

At the forefront of the most recent and overt effort to beautify Havre is an attempt to implement an ordinance aimed at owners of vacant, rundown buildings.

The proposal, almost two years in the making, would require owners of vacant properties to register with the city, pay annual increasing fees capped at $500, and submit plans for improvement or demolition – or an explanation why the property must remain vacant and in disrepair.

Havre City Ordinance Committee chairman Caleb Hutchins estimates there are 12 to 24 vacant buildings that would be affected by the ordinance. He is optimistic that a vacant property registry ordinance – a VPRO – has a good chance of passing in Havre.

But some Havre residents aren’t doing more than waiting for the city to pass a VPRO. They’re already at work beautifying the town.

Havre Beautifies With Color And Bike Racks

Some Havreites become passionate when they talk about the city’s decay and potential remedies. They speak fervently about the business fronts they’d like to scrub, the colorful projects already in evidence around town, and plans for future beautification.

One such group is Havre Main Street. The Havre Herald met with four members of the group on Feb. 22.

Havre Main Street was formed in 2015 with the goal of improving the downtown area. Its 15 core members believe Havre needs a makeover, and they want to be part of the effort.

“We’re just a group of community people, and we’re just going to do what we do,” said Vandeberg, the former Chamber director.

So what does Main Street do?

Unlike the drawn-out bureaucratic process of adopting and implementing ordinances, Main Street focuses on individual beautification projects.

Does it seem like some residents aren’t concerned with how the town looks? members were asked.

Yes, said Jim Bennett, who believes that some of Havre’s blight persists because of perception.

“They just don’t see it,” Bennett said. “Sometimes it’s hard for people to see the opportunities.”

Main Street members are often inspired by out-of-town visits and the ideas they bring back home.

“Look at this town as if you’re from out of town,” Vandeberg said.

Vandeberg, carefully, said she remembers a time in the 1980s and ’90s when Havreites took more pride in their town’s appearance.

This artistic wrap in downtown is one of nine in Havre. (Teresa Getten, The Havre Herald)

Havre Main Street is responsible for the nine artistic wraps on traffic light control boxes around town. One of the wraps, which depicts local cowboy legend (or outlaw) “Long George” Francis, was created by Main Street member Jillian Allen.

The group is also responsible for the installation of several bike racks downtown, one of which was cut and removed.

The rack’s removal from in front of the Salvation Army Thrift Store perplexed Main Street members. Why would someone be against having a bike rack? They aren’t sure who removed it or why.

One of the group’s goals is the downtown dining initiative – to have more downtown restaurants with outside dining, when the weather permits, of course. After a long and cold winter, people would appreciate dining outside, members agree.

“Everywhere we’ve gone,” Vandeberg said, there was outside dining.

The group wishes regulations would make it easier for restaurants to put some chairs and tables outside for customers.

Havre’s sidewalk seating ordinance mandates that those who want to put chairs and tables outside fill out an application, provide a plan and drawing, list the times when tables and chairs will be outside, and pay a $10 fee. (See the Sidewalk Seating ordinance here)

Welcome signs greet drivers coming from both sides of U.S. Highway 2. (Teresa Getten, The Havre Herald)

Welcome To Havre

Main Street also refurbished the two greeting signs on the east and west entrances of town. They’re the “invitations” that most visitors, and residents, see just entering Havre on U.S. Highway 2.

Hundreds of thousands of people drive through Havre every year, Vandeberg says. So it wouldn’t hurt to improve the town’s façade, especially downtown.

More than 9,000 vehicles, on average, pass through Havre daily on U.S. 2 between the junction with U.S. 87 and the junction with 38th Avenue.

The 2017 Annual Average Daily Traffic that passed through Havre was 9,106, said Marie Stump of the Montana Department of Transportation. That number does not count whether there are repeat vehicles, where they come from, or how many people are in the vehicles.

Vandeberg said Main Street organizers approached BNSF Railway about cleaning one of the most recognizable buildings in downtown. The First Street building, owned by BNSF, houses 10 operating businesses, including the Oxford Bar.

The group asked that broken glass from a vacant space in the building be cleaned and it was. They hope that, in the future, the building will continue to improve.

By the end of the school year, people driving through downtown will be greeted with another artistic project.

Thanks to a grant from Wells Fargo, the group bought four 5-by-10-foot aluminum panels to be painted and displayed downtown.

Havre High School students are painting a four-part mural that will hang on the west side of Floren’s Hill County Printing building on First Street. The mural, which will depict four aspects of Havre outdoor life, will be 10 by 20 feet.

Right now, the large panels are in art teacher Lindsey Ratliff’s classroom.

Students were asked to submit ideas for art that best illustrates what the outdoors means to them. Julian TopSky won the competition with his tribute to summer at Fresno Reservoir, agricultural harvesting in the fall, skiing in the Bear Paw Mountains in winter, and spring hiking and running on Havre’s trails.

Julian TopSky (right) submitted the winning idea for what will become the four-panel mural that will hang in downtown Havre. (Teresa Getten, The Havre Herald)

Erica Farmer, a Main Street member, said TopSky’s idea was the “most inclusive of all the outdoor area attractions and activities that makes this area so unique.”

“We thought it would be good for visitors to the area to see the wide variety of activities available on the Hi-line, in bright color,” she said.

Since painting has begun in January, Ratliff estimates that about 30 students have picked up a brush. Any student can come in her classroom and paint. She anticipates that more students will put their mark on the mural by the time the project is finished.

The project is one-third of the way complete, Ratliff said. By the end of the school year, it should be ready to hang in downtown Havre. There may even be a ceremony of some sort, she said.

Ratliff is glad Main Street and school leaders teamed up to make the vibrant project happen.

“I’m just excited that kids are going to have their art in a public place,” she said.

There will be a thick varnish on the mural to protect it from the treacherous elements.

Ratliff, who is also a Havre City councilwoman, said the mural project goes to show that there are many ways to improve the town’s appearance.

Havre Looks To Join State Commerce Program

The city and Chamber of Commerce are working together to apply for a program that may help Havre get money and expertise on downtown improvement.

The first step is becoming a member community of the Montana Main Street Program. (The entity has no association with Havre’s informal Main Street group). Twenty-seven Montana communities that are part of the program.

Havre Area Chamber of Commerce Executive director Jody Olson thinks it’s a no-brainer that Havre should be on the membership list.

The point of the program, administered through the Department of Commerce, is to help communities strengthen and preserve their historic downtown commercial districts by focusing on economic development, urban revitalization and historic preservation through long-range planning, organization, design, and promotion, according to its website.

So what does it mean to be in the Montana Main Street Program?

On Jan. 11, the program announced eight communities that received $105,000 in planning grants. Among the grants, Great Falls received $20,000 for a downtown revitalization study, Roundup was rewarded $5,000 for a preliminary architectural report, and Ennis got $10,000 for a downtown master plan.

In November, it was announced that Butte would receive $150,000 to help rehabilitate a historic building.

The prospect of being part of the program could mean a lot to Havre.

“I think it’s a big deal,” Olson said. “I feel like it’s one thing we need. Gosh, it would be nice to have some things cleaned up.”

Olson said the city is enthusiastic about getting into the program.

“The mayor thinks the timing’s right,” she said, speaking of Mayor Tim Solomon.

Bear Paw Development executive director Paul Tuss is also on board.

Havre’s would-be designation in the Main Street Program would help make downtown “a more inviting place for business growth and visitor spending and would hopefully instill in local residents a sense of community pride in our downtown area,” Tuss said.

The first obstacle, Olson said, is to get downtown business and property owners unified and excited about becoming a member of the program. Olson, Solomon and Tuss will meet with downtown stakeholders to demonstrate that Havre is serious about becoming a Main Street Program member.

Eventually, business and property owners will form an official group, name themselves, and establish a board.

Come October 1, Havre will be allowed to apply. December 1 is the deadline.

The task of keeping a community from atrophying is difficult and multi-faceted. Cities and towns all across the country share in the struggle.

In Havre, it’s clear many residents are determined to not sit by and let the community decay. People use the tools they have to shape the community – to chip away the grime.

Those who want to, do.

They believe Havre has yet to look and be its best.

(Lindsey Ratliff looks at one of the panels in her classroom, which will soon hang in downtown Havre. Teresa Getten, The Havre Herald)


  1. Anonymous

    What a beautiful idea. I have seen two of the art works already in place and I love them. Thank you

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