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“For us, it’s a balance between the history of the building and making it a cool contemporary space,” says Nick Checota, who owns the venue with his wife, Robin. “I think you want it to (have) both.” Checota sasy his goal was always to make the theater one of the best in the West that will draw big headliners to Missoula.

With more than 250 members and their employees present, the Missoula Downtown Association presented six distinguished Downtown Awards for Excellence at the annual business meeting of the association Wednesday night at the Holiday Inn Downtown.

The Wilma Theatre won the Downtown Business of the Year Award for its entertainment contributions to the downtown economy and for putting Missoula on the map with tour groups who previously did not visit the Garden City. The Wilma hosted more than 100 events in 2016.

Other nominees for the Downtown Business of the Year were Adventure Cycling Association, Big Sky Breakout, the Central Square Building Association, El Cazador, Missoula Art Museum and Runner’s Edge.

The Downtown Employee of the Year was presented to Jeff Vanderstouw, Maintenance Manager of the Missoula Parking Commission, for his leadership and contributions on the implementation of the new parking meter kiosks and signage. Others nominated for the award include Carey Davis of ATG, Jonathan Funk of Big Sky Breakout, Austin Shannon of First Montana Bank, Monica Shatto from the Blarney Stone Café at Providence St. Patrick Hospital, and Dan Tori from the Wilma Theater.

The Downtown Volunteer of the Year was awarded to Joe Beatty of Montana Massage Clinic. Beatty has volunteered for most of the Downtown ToNight events over the past three years, and has also volunteered for Roots Fest, BrewFest and Parade of Lights. The other nominee was Michelle Gray, volunteer for Adventure Cycling Association.

The MDA Board Member of the Year was awarded to Lynda Brown, owner of Brown Human Resource Management Consulting. Brown has contributed to a significant number of projects and programs of the MDA and has contributed significantly to the reorganization and creation of the Downtown Missoula Partnership. The other nominee was Rick Eneas of the Montana-Idaho Community Development Corporation, who has served as Board Treasurer for the last five years.

The MDA Committee Member of the Year was awarded to Melissa Wagner, Catering Manager for the Badlander, for her contributions to River City Roots Festival. Other nominees were Bram Moore from the Boys and Girls Club, Emily Kannady of First Security Bank and Heidi Starrett of Missoula Broadcasting Company.

The most prestigious award of the evening – the Downtowner of the Year – was presented to Tom Bensen of Arts Missoula. Benson is a consummate promoter of arts and culture in downtown Missoula. He led the efforts in 2016 to rebrand the Missoula Cultural Council as Arts Missoula. The organization assumed responsibilities for the city’s Public Art Commission, enhanced arts education in partnership with SPARK, and completed the Arts and Economic Prosperity Study for Missoula. Bensen joins an elite group of individuals who have earned the Downtowner of the Year Award since 1986 by making downtown Missoula a better place through extraordinary and unselfish efforts.

Other current nominees for the Downtowner of the Year award were Anders Brooker of Runners’ Edge, Aimee McQuilkin of Betty’s Divine, and John Engen, Mayor of Missoula.

Previous Downtowner of the Year Award winners are Nick Checota, Anne Guest, Partners Creative, Matt Ellis, Michael Tree, Kevin “KB” Brown, Anders Brooker, Theresa Cox, Julie McFarland, Brent Campbell, Ellen Buchanan, Rick Bice, Jared Amoss, Dalene Withycombe, Rod Austin, Caroll Bardgett, Mark Gorseth, Geoff Badenoch, Dan Cederberg (twice), Kim Murray, Scott Sproull, John Roemer, Marcia Pilgeram, Rod Rosean, Monte Turner, Bill Buseman and Tom Kosena. 

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