Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Happiest Hour: Eric Ryan Simmons at Plonk

Posted By on Tue, Jun 21, 2016 at 7:04 PM

PHOTO BY ERIKA FREDRICKSON
  • photo by Erika Fredrickson

Who he is:
When Eric Ryan Simmons applied to work at Plonk in 2013, he had only a fine art degree and experience with a hot shot crew. The restaurant hired him as a server and bar-back after he sent them a cover letter with a photo of Tom Selleck. “I started watching the bartenders and bought a tall stack of books,” Simmons says. He worked his way up to bartender, and now he creates his own cocktails.


How he creates a drink: Simmons sometimes makes cocktails based on fake names patrons come up with. “It’s often a conceptual thing,” he says. “Sometimes it’s a taste or feeling I’m trying to recreate.”

Kick in the Pisco: A recent trend of making chili-infused cocktails inspired Simmons to make this sweet-and-spicy drink. He created a habanero and maple syrup, which he mixes with Capel Pisco Reservado, St. Germain and lime, and tops with an edible orchid.
$9.

Panchos Anchos: Ancho Reyes chili liquor is a relatively new addition to the bar’s inventory. Simmons fell in love with the taste—it’s made with smoked poblanos—and made this drink, which also includes agave nectar, bitters, fresh lime and a thick rim of tajin. $10.

Favorite thing to drink: Simmons likes to experiment with egg-white cocktails and his recipe book behind the bar features his off-menu favorites. (Just ask him.) But cocktails aren’t always what he craves. “I like to think about different cocktails and I like to sip them,” he says. “But at the end of the night it’s always a beer. I don’t even want to think about a cocktail.”

How to find him: Eric Ryan Simmons shares recipes on his “mixt & mingling” blog at immxt.co. He works the night shift at Plonk. 322 N. Higgins.

Happiest Hour celebrates western Montana watering holes. To recommend a bar, bartender or beverage for Happiest Hour, email editor@missoulanews.com.

Rockies Today, June 21

Posted By on Tue, Jun 21, 2016 at 12:52 PM

Mountain West News is a service of the O’Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West — a regional studies and public education program at the University of Montana. The Center’s purpose is to serve as an important and credible resource for people in the state and region in understanding the region’s past, present, and future. For more, visit mountainwestnews.org


Missoula fireworks company explains why it abandoned Fourth of July show

Posted By on Tue, Jun 21, 2016 at 10:58 AM

There’s no visible sign for Montana Display Fireworks, located in a warehouse past the Missoula International Airport, but the company name is plastered in big black letters on the inside of a steel door that’s unlocked even though the lights are off, a desk chair is empty and the clock shows 5:30 p.m. The building is surrounded by rows upon rows of bruised shipping containers and trailers, more than a hundred in total. A mother skunk and her kits scurry across the dirt, from one trailer tire to another.

A piece of paper taped to the unlocked door instructs visitors to check in at the main office, described as a brown warehouse. It’s likewise nondescript, but as soon as the door opens, owner Mike Brown calls out from his desk in the back.

Southgate Mall officials were vague on details when they announced June 16 that the annual Fourth of July fireworks would be canceled, saying only that the mall’s longtime vendor—which they declined to name—backed out five weeks earlier due to “changes in their industry.” Brown would like to keep it that way. He confirms Montana Display Fireworks is the unnamed vendor, but says he won’t answer many questions because he doesn’t want a “hatchet job” on the company.

The Missoula company that provided and set off Fourth of July fireworks at Southgate Mall for more than 20 years is getting out of the business, its owner says. Southgate Mall canceled this year's show after failing to find a backup. - PHOTO BY CHAD HARDER
  • photo by Chad Harder
  • The Missoula company that provided and set off Fourth of July fireworks at Southgate Mall for more than 20 years is getting out of the business, its owner says. Southgate Mall canceled this year's show after failing to find a backup.

Nonetheless, it soon becomes apparent that Brown is as disappointed about the outcome as the families who gather throughout the valley to watch the annual show. He can’t help but explain himself, saying his insurance rates doubled this past year, setting fire to whatever meager profits still existed in the display fireworks shows. The rows of shipping containers outside are actually part of the consumer wholesale side of the business, Great Grizzly Fireworks, that Brown’s father created in the 1980s (the display fireworks are buried in bunkers). Putting on a Fourth of July show was Richard Brown’s pet project, his son says, and he often liked to launch a few more fireworks than the mall actually paid for. After Richard passed away last September, his son ultimately decided to focus on Great Grizzly. He calls it a business decision.

Brown mentions Missoula isn’t the only Montana town that must find a new fireworks vendor this summer, but he ends the interview when the Indy’s reporter asks about the other communities.

Anaconda is among them, according to Mike Strutzel of the volunteer Anaconda Celebrations United Veterans group, which organizes the local Fourth of July show.

“It was sort of a scramble,” he says.

But unlike the Southgate event, which officials described as a “turnkey” operation, Anaconda uses local, trained volunteers to set off the explosives, Strutzel says. His 14-member committee needed only to find a new fireworks supplier, and Brown’s company helped them do it. Their show will continue as planned.

Strutzel adds that he enjoyed working with the Missoula outfit, in part because the company used to let the Anaconda group pay its bill whenever enough donations came in. Oftentimes the money didn’t come in until after the community saw the fireworks burst in the summer night sky.

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Monday, June 20, 2016

Rockies Today, June 20

Posted By on Mon, Jun 20, 2016 at 11:26 AM

Mountain West News is a service of the O’Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West — a regional studies and public education program at the University of Montana. The Center’s purpose is to serve as an important and credible resource for people in the state and region in understanding the region’s past, present, and future. For more, visit mountainwestnews.org


Getting high in the crime lab (and more News of the Weird)

Posted By on Mon, Jun 20, 2016 at 9:00 AM

inonewsblog_copy.jpg
App Nauseam
In May, the Norwegian Consumer Council staged a live, 32-hour TV broadcast marathon – a word-for-word reading of the “terms of service” for internet applications Instagram, Spotify and more than two dozen others, totaling 900 pages and 250,000 words of legal restrictions and conditions that millions of users “voluntarily” agree to when they sign up (usually via a mouse click or finger swipe). A council official called such terms “bordering on the absurd,” as consumers could not possibly understand everything they were legally binding themselves to. The reading was another example of Norway’s fascination with “slow TV”–demonstrated by the success of other marathons, such as coverage of a world-record attempt at knitting yarn and five 24-hour days on a salmon-fishing boat, mentioned in News of the Weird in 2013.

Government in Action!
The Defense Department still uses 1980s-era 8-inch floppy disks on computer systems that handle part of America’s “nuclear umbrella,” including ballistic missiles. Also, according to a May report by the Government Accountability Office, systems using 1970s-era COBOL programing language are still used for key functions of the Justice Department and Internal Revenue Service, among others (including Veterans Affairs, for tracking beneficiary claims). Agencies have reported recruiting retired employees to return to fix glitches in operating systems long since abandoned by Microsoft and others.

In April, police in Boise, Idaho, told KAWO Radio that they will not relax the year-old ban on dachshund “racing” that was a traditional family entertainment highlight at the annual “Arena-Wiena Extravaganza”–because all dog-racing in Idaho is illegal. The station had argued that the law intended to target only greyhound racing; that an exception had been carved out for popular dogsled racing (reasoning: individual dogs were not racing each other) and that, in any event, the “race” course was only about 40 feet long–but reported that the authorities were “dead serious” about the ban.

Can’t Possibly Be True
A watchdog agency monitoring charities revealed in May its choice for “worst” among those “helping” U.S. veterans: The National Vietnam Veterans Foundation raised more than $29 million from 2010 to 2014 – but wound up donating about 2 cents of every dollar toward actual help. The other 98 cents went to administration and fund-raising. (Similarly troubling, according to the watchdog, is that the CEO of NVVF is a staff attorney at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.)

More Adventures of the Easily Offended
(1) A March video featured a black San Francisco State University woman angrily confronting a white student, accusing him of “cultural appropriation” because he was wearing his hair in dreadlocks. (2) A March fitness club ad in Sawley, England, picturing an extraterrestrial with the caption, “And when they arrive, they’ll take the fat ones first,” was denounced by an anti-bullying organization as “offensive.” (3) A May bus-stop ad for a San Francisco money lender (”10 percent down. Because you’re too smart to rent”) was derided for “ooz(ing) self-congratulatory privilege.”

Continue reading »

Friday, June 17, 2016

Rockies Today, June 17

Posted By on Fri, Jun 17, 2016 at 1:30 PM

Mountain West News is a service of the O’Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West — a regional studies and public education program at the University of Montana. The Center’s purpose is to serve as an important and credible resource for people in the state and region in understanding the region’s past, present, and future. For more, visit mountainwestnews.org


Thursday, June 16, 2016

Southgate Mall cancels Fourth of July fireworks

Posted By on Thu, Jun 16, 2016 at 4:34 PM

Southgate Mall will not host its annual Fourth of July Fireworks this year.

The announcement, made this afternoon, stated the fireworks company Southgate has partnered with for more than 20 years was unable to provide the show “due to changes in their industry.” Marketing Director Trisha Shepard said Southgate Mall was informed of the situation five weeks ago and was “beyond disappointed” at having to cancel. She added Southgate did everything it could “just short of me applying for an ATF explosives license."

“Unfortunately there’s just too much more that goes along with that,” Shepard told the Indy in a follow-up interview. “It’s not like you just obtain a license and you can go do it. We just couldn’t get all the pieces put together.”
PHOTO BY CHAD HARDER
  • Photo by Chad Harder

Shepard said the primary problem with finding an alternative was the company Southgate had historically worked with was a “turnkey” operation, meaning they did everything from ordering the fireworks to choreographing the show. The short notice also meant most of the companies Southgate contacted in the region to fill in were already hired for other shows. She would not name the vendor and could not elaborate on the reasons for the company's cancellation except to say it's working with explosives and that “restrictions are getting tighter and tighter regardless of what you’re using them for.”

Shepard said she knows of no one trying to step in to fill the void in Missoula this year.

“Nobody’s going to be filling in or taking over,” Shepard said. “This short of notice, they couldn’t find someone if they wanted to.”

City communications director Ginny Merriam was also unsure if any alternatives would pop up, but, she adds, “you never know what might happen.”

Southgate’s announcement did remind locals that there will be a fireworks display July 1 in Ogren Park following the Osprey baseball game. Merriam says the city’s Fourth of July radio advertising will also inform people of the Osprey fireworks, as well as remind people that use of fireworks in the city limits is illegal.

Here's the full text of Southgate's release:

Missoula, MT, June 16, 2016:

For the past 30+ years Southgate Mall has had the distinct pleasure of hosting thousands of spectators each 4th of July as we’ve honored our nation’s independence with a festive fireworks display. It is with a heavy heart that we announce that the 4th of July Fireworks at Southgate Mall will not be held this year. Trisha Shepard, Marketing Director, says, “We are beyond disappointed to have to make this announcement and cancel one of our most beloved community events. Five weeks ago, we were informed by our fireworks company partner of over 20 years that due to changes in their industry they would not be able to provide our show this year. Our team has worked tirelessly since that meeting to find an alternative, but with no luck. We tried everything we could, just short of me applying for an ATF explosives license, so I could shoot the fireworks myself. There are a lot of federal safety regulations and restrictions when it comes to the size of the fireworks we shoot, and rightfully so. We know lots of families and community members plan their holiday weekend around coming to our show, so cancelling it was truly the last thing we wanted to do.”

General Manager, Tim Winger, noted, “The budget for the event was ready to go and we had even been working around some of the changes in the parking lot due to the construction of our movie theater. Regardless, the decision didn’t come to us lightly. Our team really tried every avenue, but with the short notice it just wasn’t possible.”

Fireworks fans do have some options and are encouraged to check out the fireworks display on Friday, July 1 at Ogren Park at Allegiance Field, following the Missoula Osprey baseball game, or enjoy some of the other surrounding area 4th of July fireworks displays. The City of Missoula would like citizens to remember that the use of fireworks within City limits is illegal. Questions regarding fireworks regulations can be answered by the Fire Prevention Bureau at 406-552-6210.

The owners and management staff of Southgate Mall would like to sincerely thank each and every spectator who has come out in support of the 4th of July Fireworks in the past 30 years, as well as the generous sponsors and community volunteers who helped bring this event to Missoula each year. 

Rockies Today, June 16

Posted By on Thu, Jun 16, 2016 at 12:38 PM

Mountain West News is a service of the O’Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West — a regional studies and public education program at the University of Montana. The Center’s purpose is to serve as an important and credible resource for people in the state and region in understanding the region’s past, present, and future. For more, visit mountainwestnews.org


Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Rockies Today, June 15

Posted By on Wed, Jun 15, 2016 at 11:37 AM

Mountain West News is a service of the O’Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West — a regional studies and public education program at the University of Montana. The Center’s purpose is to serve as an important and credible resource for people in the state and region in understanding the region’s past, present, and future. For more, visit mountainwestnews.org


NMCDC lands funds for downtown affordable housing project

Posted By on Wed, Jun 15, 2016 at 10:33 AM

Just north of Kiwanis Park, a green-and-pink Victorian home has nearly 150 years of Missoula history in its bones and a football-sized rock in the front room. The rock likely entered through a bay window, beneath which shards of glass and a crumpled can of Rainier sit suspended in some shrubs.

The building at 503 East Front St. is a freakish structure that has been abandoned since city officials condemned it in January 2015. What started as one of Missoula’s earliest log cabins and a backdrop for some bizarre moments in city history ended up a 10-unit apartment complex where period architecture was patched up—and often over—with cheap repairs.

It’s hard to say whether Bob Oaks, executive director of the North Missoula Community Development Corporation, is more excited about the site’s storied past or its now-promising future. Oaks should have a chance to celebrate both later this summer, as funding falls into place that will allow NMCDC to deconstruct and study the historic building, then erect a new affordable housing development in its place.

The complex, to be called Lee Gordon Place, will be NMCDC’s fourth such project since 2002 and the first to bring its new model of affordable homeownership to downtown Missoula.
After receiving the historic home at 503 East Front St. as a donation, the North Missoula Community Development Corporation has pieced together various grants that will allow it to demolish the structure and build affordable townhomes. - PHOTO BY DEREK BROUWER
  • photo by derek brouwer
  • After receiving the historic home at 503 East Front St. as a donation, the North Missoula Community Development Corporation has pieced together various grants that will allow it to demolish the structure and build affordable townhomes.

Much like the house itself, which was jury-rigged over the years into its present state, NMCDC is piecing together a slew of grants and funding sources to make the project happen. The bulk of the money is coming from federal housing programs, and on June 13 the Missoula City Council approved a Brownfields grant of up to $125,000 to remediate the property.

In endorsing the funding during a council committee hearing, Councilman Bryan Von Lossberg called the allocation “one way we chip away” at the city’s affordable housing problem.

Like with prior projects such as the Burns Street Commons, the Front Street townhomes will be offered as part of NMCDC’s community land trust, which Oaks says keeps the units permanently affordable. NMCDC plans to offer seven townhomes at a price point under $150,000 to buyers who make less than 80 percent of the city’s median income.

In 2015, only 10 percent of homes sold in the Missoula urban area were priced below $150,000, with the median sales price increasing again to $238,700, according to the Missoula Organization of Realtors.
The Lee Gordon Place will be sold as part of NMCDC's community land trust, an affordable homeownership model in which the trust retains the land beneath the home while the homeowner builds limited equity. - ARCHITECTURAL DRAWING PROVIDED BY NMCDC
  • Architectural drawing provided by NMCDC
  • The Lee Gordon Place will be sold as part of NMCDC's community land trust, an affordable homeownership model in which the trust retains the land beneath the home while the homeowner builds limited equity.

Oaks, a founding member of Preserve Historic Missoula, says deconstructing the building will be “a greater contribution to history” than trying to preserve what’s left of it. Both city and state preservation officers have “reluctantly” endorsed its demolition, as city senior grants administrator Nancy Harte told council members. (Unlike the Mercantile building, the Front Street building is not individually listed as a historic structure and is not subject to Historic Preservation Commission review.)

NMCDC has approached the Missoula Redevelopment Agency for aid in deconstructing the home and is seeking private foundation money to fully investigate its history with a local researcher.

Oaks calls these sorts of projects “very difficult” to pull off, adding that NMCDC wouldn’t have been able to acquire the property if the heirs to its deceased owner, Lee Gordon, hadn’t donated it.

“There just isn’t money out there to buy land,” he says.

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