Beautification or gentrification? 

Wayne Hirst isn’t happy with the direction his town is going.

After more than a year of work, Libby, with the help of Libby Revitalization Inc., a nonprofit economic development group, came up with the Main Street Program—a plan for beautifying the town’s main thoroughfare, Mineral Avenue, with physical improvements such as new sidewalks, lights and landscaping.

It’s estimated the plan would cost $7.5 million, part of which is the proposed responsibility of businesses on Mineral Avenue, including Hirst’s accounting firm, Hirst & Associates.

Hirst has formed Libby Downtown Association, a nonprofit group opposed to the plan.

Although cost is part of Hirst’s problem, aesthetics and culture, he says, are his biggest concerns.

“Are we going to follow the trend of the Rocky Mountain West where engineering firms from big cities tell our towns how they should look?” he asks. “That’s a plan for turning Libby into a yuppie-type town,” he says, “like Whitefish.”

The Whitefish City Council approved a downtown master plan, facilitated by a Portland consulting firm, in March. The plan calls for several multimillion dollar projects, including a new city hall, landscaped sidewalks on Central Avenue and two downtown parking structures.

Hirst thinks Whitefish’s and Libby’s plans cater to those who stand to make the most money from increased property values: real estate agents and developers.

Hirst admits he didn’t pay much attention to the process that went into creating the Main Street Program until he heard what it would potentially cost him. Hirst says that on his business alone, Main Street Program levies would be more than $12,000.

But Betty Jo Wood, executive director of Libby Revitalization Inc., says it’s yet to be determined how much the plan might cost Mineral Avenue businesses. Total cost for the project will be split between the businesses and federal grants.

Wood notes the year’s worth of public involvement that went into creating the Main Street Program.

“We had a lot of input,” she says. “We want to be uniquely Libby. I don’t know what a yuppie town is, but if it means nice lights and sidewalks, then I don’t understand.”

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