As he prepares to leave Hi-Line, virtually the only place he has ever lived, Caleb Hutchins sees Havre at a crossroads.
Hutchins has been seen as a leader of the group ushering in a new era in the city. He was serving a second term on city council.
He said he accepted a position as a professional development leader at the Community Colleges of Spokane because of the challenges it offers and for the benefit of his family. He’s leaving a similar post at Montana State University-Northern, a much smaller institution.
But his departure is bittersweet, he said, because he will be leaving behind family and friends and because he sees Havre at an important crossroads.
Hutchins expects to visit Havre often, and he has a vision of the Havre he would like to see:
- A lively downtown filled with niche markets catering to a variety of people.
- Programs and concerts like a “battle of the bands” and other activities designed to get people out and about.
- A downtown where Northern and the overall community work together to get students involved in activities.
- Greater cooperation between Havre and Rocky Boy that could promote tourism.
The city will either adapt to new ways and come up with innovative programs and different ideas or follow the lead of a faction that would like to keep doing things the way they always have, he said. If that happens, he’s afraid, the city will “just dry up and blow away.”
There have been some encouraging signs, he said in an interview with The Havre Herald.
New locally owned businesses are popping up, established by people who are active in the community. There are breweries, coffee shops, and other similar businesses. Hutchins praised Michael Garrity of Triple Dog Brewing for becoming a community leader and introducing new ideas.
Other signs of change are appearing, Hutchins said. While some people are happy to see the sides of buildings remain painted white, others have taken part in the trend of having colorful murals replace the plain sides. A downtown improvement committee worked hard to get mural coverings for traffic light boxes. Councilmember Lindsay Rarliff’s Havre High School art classes designed murals that hang on the walls of Florens Printing. These kinds of changes make downtown more attractive, he said, and promote the feeling that Havre is alive and growing.
Some at City Hall have worked on changes that also would have an impact, he said.
Hutchins has supported a vacant property registry that would require owners of empty buildings to file with the city, detail their plans for the building, and sometimes pay a small annual fee. A citizens committee drew up a proposed ordinance creating such a registry, and some other members of council joined him in the effort.
Hutchins reasons the ordinance would have encouraged some to improve or sell their vacant property, lessening blight. While the proposed ordinance was aimed largely at out-of-town owners, several local property owners objected strenuously.
Then other city officials said the city might have to gain home rule from the state before enacting such laws. Adopting a city charter — which most Montana cities have done already — would give council the authority to adopt a vacant property ordinance, he said. Council has until August to vote to put home rule on the November election ballot.
Hutchins left Havre over the weekend. His family will join him soon.
Write to John Kelleher at [email protected]