While many view the Hip Strip along South Higgins Avenue as one of the city’s most vibrant sections—thanks to a collection of some of Missoula’s favorite tunes, flicks, clothes, beverages, books and eats—the area’s business owners are looking at it a little more harshly.
Earlier this month, a group known as the Hip Strip Commercial Property Owners Association got support from the Missoula Redevelopment Agency for a request that the city of Missoula fund a study to determine whether sufficient “blight” exists along the Hip Strip to warrant an urban renewal district.
“Because it brings to mind images of vacant, dilapidated or deteriorating buildings, ‘blight’ is an unfortunate name for the Hip Strip,” says Chris Behan, assistant director for the Missoula Redevelopment Agency (MRA). Blight, he adds, also includes areas where faulty lot layouts, obsolete planning or mixed land use impede commercial investment.
If the city approves the study and the study confirms blight, City Council can then create an urban renewal district, which would create a revenue mechanism to funnel a portion of the property’s generated tax revenue toward in-district improvements.
“They have a bunch of stuff they need to do,” says Ward 3 City Councilman Bob Jaffe. “They are all old buildings that haven’t been renovated, and a lot of them need help.”
Earlier this summer, Jaffe and fellow Ward 3 Councilwoman Stacy Rye joined MRA director Ellen Buchanan to meet with Hip Strip business owners and hear concerns about parking shortages, faded façades and other necessary updates. The proposed district currently includes the Missoulian’s offices and Bernice’s Bakery to the north, and stretches to Hellgate High School and Rockin Rudy’s to the south. Behan says the property owners may consider “tinkering” with these boundaries, a common post-study revision.
Until then, the study request is headed to the Administration and Finance Committee, chaired by Rye, who says she expects to schedule it for discussion in the next two weeks.