Missoula brings UM into the fold
Despite the best efforts of well-intentioned administrators and overseers, the University of Montana—one of Missoula's primary cultural assets and economic drivers—continues its precipitous decline toward the second rank of flagship state universities. Responding to the ongoing debacle in the only way he knows how, Mayor John Engen announces that the city—after months of secret negotiations—has entered into an agreement to purchase the struggling school, bringing it under the umbrella of municipal management with Mountain Water and a growing portfolio of city-owned infrastructure. The purchase price won't be announced until late 2018, but whatever it is, hey, it's only money.
Denise Juneau gets a job
Denise Juneau's yearlong job interview didn't go so well. Nearly 60 percent of Montana voters opted in November not to hire the term-limited superintendent of public instruction as their congresswoman. Sensing an opportunity, hundreds of petitioners lined up in December to support Juneau's bid to replace outgoing University of Montana President Royce Engstrom. As intriguing as that idea is, skepticism about Juneau's lack of higher- education credentials put a crimp on those aspirations as the calendar turned to the new year, leaving her to search for another avenue of employment in 2017. We predict Juneau won't stay idle long. With her former electoral opponent Ryan Zinke departing for the Department of Interior, she'll follow up with a second shot at the U.S. House seat Zinke leaves behind—a victory Republicans will once again deny her. Her name will then pop up as a possible challenger to Mayor John Engen this fall. But the thought of rocking the establishment boat in her new hometown won't hold much appeal for Juneau, and she'll finally resort to an option most Missoulians in search of a steady gig only ever talk about. She'll open a brewery.
The Mercantile gets new life as a laser projection
A judge still has to rule, but the Missoula Mercantile's days appear to be numbered. Those old bricks just aren't suited for business in the 21st century—at least that's what the developers of a new Marriott hotel at the site convinced Missoula City Council last year. Thousands of Missoula residents begged to differ, going so far as to dream up their own redevelopment alternatives for a mixed-use, community-centered, chic epicenter of all things Missoula. The new year brings a wrecking ball to those fantasies—but we predict the Merc doesn't go down without a(nother) fight. Historic preservation advocates will chain themselves to the building, sing "Big Yellow Taxi" with the parking lot lyric replaced by the name of a certain hotel brand, and tape a list of demands to the display windows.
In an attempt to appease the protesters, HomeBase Montana founder Andy Holloran agrees to memorialize the historic structure by projecting a hologram of the old Merc in Caras Park—and charging people a dollar and a half to wander through it. The truce holds until summer, when farmers market strollers complain that the enormous hologram blocks their view of Ninja Mike's breakfast sandwich menu, and a whole new controversy is born.
The city finds an affordability fix
This year, the city of Missoula will finally address the housing affordability and availability crisis head on. In 2016, the median price for housing peaked at roughly $260,000, while the median family could afford about $180,000. The powers to be will acknowledge this disparity and make it a priority to implement a solution. Following in the successful footsteps of Burlington, Vermont (a community that possesses a lot of similar traits), the city of Missoula will implement an inclusionary housing policy. This citywide ordinance will require a percentage of new construction to be permanently affordable by people with low to moderate incomes. The policy will positively affect community cohesion, normalize neighborhood demographics and balance local housing markets.
After all, our baristas (and professors) have to live somewhere.
Jack Metcalf, professor, bartender and North Missoula Community Development Corporation board member
The Boss plays in darkness, on the edge of town
In 2014 we made the bold prediction that Bruce Springsteen would finally play Missoula in 2015. A community Facebook page called "Bruce Springsteen in Missoula" had been started in 2009, featuring occasional pleas for the heartland hero to make his way to the Garden City. We'd already (finally) gotten the Rolling Stones and Paul McCartney, and Montana was one of just a few states that the Boss had yet to play. We're (again) predicting that will change.
Remember in Field of Dreams when James Earl Jones told Kevin Costner, "If you build it, they will come?" In December, Top Hat and Wilma owner Nick Checota announced plans to build a 4,000-capacity amphitheater in partnership with KettleHouse Brewing. The KettleHouse Amphitheater is slated to open in May along the Blackfoot River in Bonner, just seven miles from Missoula. Coincidentally, Springsteen plans to tour for the release of a new solo album this year. Unable to resist the enticing spot down by—ahem—the river, the Boss will angle to be named the amphitheater's grand-opening act, kicking off a summer full of coveted big-ticket names.
Reserve Street gets a big ol' bag of Dick's
OK, so maybe you'd prefer that Trader Joe's or IKEA be the next chain to set up shop in Missoula on the heels of Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen and Freddy's Frozen Custard & Steakburgers. But Trader Joe's (never mind IKEA) will continue to elude us. How about the next best thing? Get excited for Dick's Drive-In. The beloved Washington-based fast food chain will (in our dreams) branch out of state for the first time to satisfy Missoula's insatiable hunger for cheap burgers and penis jokes. It will be a bold move for the legendary chain, which was founded in the 1950s and has changed little since. But we predict Missoulians will flock in droves and Dick's will quickly muscle its way into the competitive local burger scene.
You also might be familiar with the Dick's Hamburgers in Spokane, a drive-in that opened in 1965 and offers a remarkably similar menu to the Seattle chain, but is owned by a different company. Truth be told, we're not sure which Dick's we'll be getting. But really, for most Missoulians, any Dick's will do.
Lily Gladstone wins an Oscar
Lily Gladstone's breakout role in Certain Women resulted in her name being splashed across the pages of Rolling Stone, The Advocate, Vanity Fair and dozens of Hollywood film mags. As the lonely ranch hand pining quietly for a small-town lawyer (Kristen Stewart), the Missoula actress was praised for impressionistic facial expressions that said more than words ever could. In 2017, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will announce Gladstone as an Oscar nominee, along with Viola Davis, Michelle Williams and other big names. As usual, most of the categories will generate predictable winners, but we predict that Gladstone, the dark-horse pick in her category, will return to Missoula with the statue in hand.
Missoula gets its first medical edible bakery
Montana's medical marijuana industry claimed a major win in the 2016 election. With the passage of Initiative 182—and a speedier-than-predicted implementation, thanks to District Judge James Reynolds—pot will regain its status as the engine of ingenuity and entrepreneurship that it was before conservative lawmakers mucked everything up. Here in Missoula, that spirit of creativity will take the shape of a bakery dedicated solely to producing edibles for medical marijuana cardholders. Such an enterprise would certainly lead to breakthroughs in the science of measuring THC and CBD dosages in brownies, cookies and all manner of, um, baked treats. Missoula being Missoula, the operation will of course go to extremes in the laudable attempt to source all ingredients locally, and will mill its own flour from Montana-sourced wheat. And, in an environmentally conscious twist, the new bakery—which may or may not decide to do business as "Smurfit Stoned"—will open its doors at the defunct paper mill on the Clark Fork, bringing a bright green spot of vibrance to one of the county's most blighted areas.
The great media fake-out of 2017
Fake news will turn out to be the salvation of the news industry and of our democracy. An epidemic of myth making will give rise to a legion of fact checkers and conspiracy debunkers. This ink-stained army will be well paid and adored by the public for its crusade against the dragons of falsehood. Journalism schools will find themselves rolling in cash.
But this new generation of journalists will soon learn what the Men in Black knew: Some of the most delicious conspiracy stories are, in fact, true. (You didn't really think we landed on the moon, did you?) As this new truthier truth emerges, journalism graybeards will do what we always do: shake our heads and say, "I knew it all along."
Larry Abramson, dean of the University of Montana School of Journalism
Montana Republicans cover their asses—and yours—on Medicaid
I boldly predict that Montana Republicans will become staunch defenders of expanded Medicaid during the 2017 legislative session. You may remember the last session, when moderates voted with Democrats to accept federal funding for expansion of Medicaid coverage under the Affordable Care Act. Conservatives fought that tooth and nail, as they did during the 2013 session, when Medicaid expansion failed by one miscast vote. Republican Rep. Austin Knudsen held the conservative line both times, but now that repeal of the ACA seems likely, he's worried about Montanans losing a vital social service.
"You're going to tell me that we're going to put 100,000 people on the Medicaid rolls and then when the federal government takes the money away we're just going to jerk the rug out from under them? I don't see that as being a realistic answer," Knudsen told the Missoulian. "The state of Montana is going to have to look at trying to help keep those people covered. Whether I like the bill or not, it passed. It was signed into law. We covered a whole bunch more people."
That's a humane position, which is how you know he came around to it recently. Knudsen's remarks echo national Republicans, who plan to repeal Obamacare immediately, but wait awhile before taking any of its benefits away. Sen. Steve Daines has called for a "two- to three-year glide path" between repeal and revocation—just enough time to get a Democrat into the White House. It's a cynical plan to stick someone else with the courage of the GOP's convictions. Look for state Republicans to doggedly defend expanded Medicaid and the Montanans who so desperately need itat least until they have someone else lined up to take the blame.
Dan Brooks, Independent columnist
Missoula hosts a TV hit
Warm Springs Productions teams up with Logjam Presents for a reality-TV game show series titled "Hat-Trick Hazards." The object of the game is for contestants to make it to three concerts—one at KettleHouse Amphitheater, one at The Wilma and one at the Top Hat—over the course of a single calendar day. The only constraint? No motorized transportation allowed.
Think of it! Bikini-clad babes bobbing down the Clark Fork in tubes trying to outpace a bunch of shirtless dudes on cruiser bikes who got hungry after three DoubleHauls and stopped at The Reno. And concert footage to boot? It's basically like Goonies meets Gimme Shelter, but with every episode culminating in MTV's "The Grind"and with contestants boogieing to local bands. Television magic!
And since I'm the architect of this predicted hit, I choose Missoula puppeteers Bat Honey to compose and produce the opening credits. Also, all scenes depicting delicate or vulnerable acts of camaraderie will be scored by neighborhood songstress RatBath, and cast and crew will be fed exclusively by Tia's Big Sky.
Caroline Keys, musician
The Report Card
Hindsight is 20/20. So how'd we do in 2016?
Missoula resettles its first refugee in years
Soft Landing Missoula was just getting geared up this time last year when we predicted that Missoula would rediscover a welcome mat that had been in storage since the International Rescue Committee helped resettle the last Hmong refugee here some 30 years ago. In fact Missoula resettled 46 refugees in the latter part of 2016, including men, women and children from war-torn Iraq, Eritrea, Ethiopia and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Montana's presidential primary will actually matter again
Boy did we get this one wrong—though we take some solace in knowing that pretty much all the crystal balls were out of order this last election cycle.
From the vantage of last January, we predicted that a tightening race would lead Hillary Clinton to add a Montana stop to her campaign trail for the first time since 2008. She didn't. (Though she did open campaign offices in the state's major cities, and sent Bill to stump for votes in Billings.) We also predicted that Tea Party turd-in-the-punchbowl Ted Cruz would put Montana on a public-lands-transfer tour of the West that never materialized (and in any case Cruz had dropped out by early May). But our forecast's most obvious failing is that it didn't even mention Donald Trump, who ended up in late May pandering incoherently to a crowd of thousands in Billings and, of course, eventually took Montana's three electoral votes with 56.2 percent of the vote.
Cold comfort consolation prize: We predicted Bernie Sanders would come to Montana, and he did, visiting Billings and Missoula. And he beat Clinton in Montana's June 7 primary—though she claimed her national primary victory that same day with big wins in California, New Jersey, New Mexico and South Dakota. Told ya it was cold comfort.
Missoula becomes the first Montana city to enact a gun control measure in the mass-shooting era
No, Missoula was not "thrust into the national spotlight for blazing a trail through a trigger-happy state for the nascent local gun control movement". But aside from some niggling discrepancies with the import, we could hardly have hit this nail more squarely on the head. Yes, as predicted, Missoula City Council in late September approved an ordinance requiring background checks on gun purchases and transfers within city limits. And yes, as predicted, the ordinance is teed-up for a legal opinion from Attorney General Tim Fox, who's widely expected to void the ordinance any day now.
Nick Checota buys and updates Marshall Mountain
Our prediction went high. In terms of elevation, at least, Nick went lower.
No, the Wilma and Top Hat owner/rehabber didn't buy Marshall Mountain and repurpose the mostly shuttered ski hill's lodge for summer concerts. But he did announce in December that his newly formed concert promotion company, Logjam Presents, is partnering with KettleHouse Brewing to build a state-of-the-art 4,000-seat amphitheater on the banks of the Blackfoot next door to KettleHouse's new production facility in Bonner. The new venue is supposed to be completed by May 2017. We predict it will be.
Winter Light, the short film based on a James Lee Burke story and shot on location in Montana, wins an Academy Award
Ooh, so close and yet so far. When we made this prediction last year, Winter Light had already made a Final 10 list in the build-up to the Academy Awards' Jan. 14 announcement of the five actual nominees, so it's not like we went way out on a limb in predicting a win. We did, however, go too far. Not only did Winter Light not take home the Oscar (that honor went to a short film called Stutterer), it didn't even make the final list of nominees. Better luck next time!
Uber puts one of Missoula's taxi services out of business
Oh come on now, Uber only just started in August. Give 'em a chance!
In wake of deepening budget cuts, UM students find their activist voice
UM's Kaiman wrote a story this year about the death of protest culture at UM, so that's a no. In the wake of deepening budget cuts, UM students did not find their activist voice in 2016. If fact, if the student body dwindles much further, that voice might become a whisper too weak to hear in any case.
Southgate Mall adds a Ferris wheel as part of its grand expansion
Not entirely sure what we were thinking with this one, but nope, no deal on the wheel. You're just going to have to make do with the nine-screen dine-in movie theater that Carmike is supposed to open at the redeveloping mall sometime this spring.
Ani DiFranco and Emmylou Harris volunteer at the ZACC's Girls Rock Camp
It must have been Pearl Jam bassist Jeff Ament's 2015 visit to the ZACC's Boys Rock Camp that gave this prediction steam. (It's all so pre-Trumpocalypse—who can remember anymore?) But no, sadly, neither Ani DiFranco nor Emmylou Harris volunteered at the ZACC's Girls Rock Camp in 2016. Boo on them. On the upside, DiFranco and Harris are both pretty famous, and they managed—unlike many famous people—to survive 2016 without dying. Can you blame us for wanting to call that a win?
The Max Wave gets delayed another year
Do you see a new play wave in the Clark Fork? Yeah, we don't see a new play wave in the Clark Fork either. Not exactly happy about it, but we nailed this one. Maybe next year? (Disclaimer: Just to be clear, we are not making any predictions about progress or otherwise on the Max Wave in 2017).
Missoula's daily newspaper publishes just six days a week
Our friends at the paper of record weren't exactly thrilled with this prediction when we published it this time last year, but good grief, it was nothing personal, and we're staring down the same barrel of newspaper biz doom and gloom that they are. So kudos to the Missoulian for not only bucking an industry-wide trend toward downsizing, but for setting straight a publication that looked for a while last year like it might implode from the inside. So mea culpa. We got this one wrong. And we're glad new editor Kathy Best still has the full complement of weekdays to work with.
Gov. Steve Bullock vs. Greg Gianforte floods the state with campaign money
Yep, our Magic 8-Ball was (predictably) on the money with this one. Whereas Steve Bullock and Rick Hill spent a combined $5,417,598 on the governor's race in 2012, challenger Greg Gianforte alone spent $8,580,885 in his losing bid to unseat Bullock in 2016. For his part, Bullock spent $3,280,920 on his 2016 win—almost twice as much as his 2012 expenditure.