A public-private partnership has unveiled its final design for the Missoula Art Park at Pine and Pattee streets in downtown Missoula.

"It's a great combination of public gathering place and creative commons," said Jim Sayer, executive director of the Adventure Cycling Association.

The project is a joint effort between that nonprofit, the Missoula Art Museum and the city of Missoula.

The public park will be built on the city-owned MAM grounds and Adventure Cycling's property on Pine Street and extend out into the space once used for parking.

The plaza-style area will be home to bench seating, trees and greenery, tables and chairs, bike racks, a public restroom and a rotating selection of sculptures curated by the MAM.

The museum has decided against locking in set positions where the art can be displayed, instead thinking of the space as an outdoor gallery, according to MAM executive director Laura Millin.

"We started out with that concept of spots, but you know what? Contemporary art is not predictable that way. You can't put it in a little box," she said.

To accommodate a variety of display options and artist proposals, the section of the park on the MAM's side of Pine will be paved with weight-bearing reinforced concrete.

"I think this is all fair game," Millin said, pointing to that space on an architect's rendering. "I could see if we were doing some sort of group show or thematic show, I could see it really scattered throughout."

One section of the Adventure Cycling side of Pine will have reinforced concrete as well to display artwork.

The MAM will have two spots to exhibit sculptures on either side of the old Carnegie Building entrance on Pattee. A little farther down the street, there will be permanently installed, functional table and chairs by artist Scott Burton.

The rotating sculptures will be vetted for other considerations, such as weather resistance.

"As we have in the past, we'll have to be careful about what we place out there, considering its durability and our ability to secure it, but it'll be in this much more formal setting than what we have now," Millin said.

"Formal" means new lighting and a more contemporary presentation space. The base will be colored concrete, and the zig-zag benches on both sides of Pine will be built of blonde brick and topped with dense Ipe wood for comfortable seating.

"We hope it's going to be considered a gathering place, not just for cyclists but for everybody," Sayer said. It's expected to attract 15,000 visitors a year, based on MAM's attendance numbers.


The park fits in with the city's Downtown Master Plan, said city communications director Ginny Merriam.

That document calls for public gathering spaces, and the park will create a North Higgins Avenue complement to Caras Park.

"That area around MAM is designated in the plan as a potential cultural district, so what better anchor than an art museum with an art park?" Merriam said.

She said the city views publicly created and owned amenities as an important part of economic development. They can enhance quality of life to attract and keep businesses and residents.

She said Mayor John Engen believes great cities "make concerted efforts to make great spaces."

The park spaces have multiple uses: The Adventure Cycling side is more like a plaza with chairs and benches, while the MAM side has more space for art.

"We really hope it will become a place where people say, 'Let's meet at the art park,' hang out and see other friends and folks, and then also come inside Adventure Cycling and the art museum," Sayer said.

The nonprofit already receives thousands of visitors a year, he said, many of whom were impressed by the idea that a city of Missoula's size would undertake an art park.


The projected budget of $593,061 for the project includes $38,000 for design development, $243,098 for landscape and amenities, and $268,163 for engineering and construction.

So far, committed funding includes $205,851 from the city's Capital Investment Program, $24,000 from the MAM, $50,000 from the state tourism office's Tourism Infrastructure and Improvement Program, and $5,000 from the Montana Cultural Trust.

That totals $299,851, leaving $387,210 worth of fundraising ahead.

"We have had some grants committed to the project already, and we'll continue now to write grants and seek contributions from the private sector: the business community in Missoula and private individuals as well," Millin said.

Sayer said he hopes people "invest in this great vision and plan. We need $300,000 to make this come true."

They'll continue seeking support and funds, intending to put the project out to bid in January and construction in early spring.


The partnership redesigned elements of the park after getting feedback from the public and businesses.

The most significant changes came through a "crime prevention through environmental design" review. That process included city crime prevention officer Robert Scheben and Missoula Parks and Recreation director Donna Gaukler and her staff.

"The goal of this design is to enhance public safety and is sensitive to maintenance concerns," Millin said.

The tops of the benches are now flush with the base to prevent the creation of a space where people could sleep or hide from view.

The grassy berms behind the benches will have planters and rocks to discourage people from treading on them, and will have a low profile to allow clear sight lines.

"The concern is that police as they cruise by, they need to be able to see into all of the areas," Millin said.

The park will be open from 7:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m., and feature automatic lighting, infrared detection and security cameras.

It will be regularly maintained by Parks and Rec staff and the Downtown Improvement District.

The MAM's side will include a Portland Loo, a free-standing permanent restroom for use during the spring, summer and fall.

"It's just a really award-winning design that is working so well in urban areas," Millin said.

The mayor's downtown advisory committee broached the idea, as it had been seeking a spot for a public restroom in that section of downtown.

"Here, adjacent to the People's Market and a block from the farmers market, it was an ideal location," Millin said.

They're seeking a grant to pay for a drinking fountain and water-bottle filling station.

The Missoula Parking Commission will add more short-term parking in the area around the park to mitigate the loss of 16 spaces on Pine. The total will eventually be higher than the number the park displaced.


Millin and the MAM first began brainstorming about a sculpture garden following the museum's multi-million dollar expansion project, which was completed in 2006.

After seeking ideas and feedback, "the project really morphed into a little pocket park," she said.

That expanded the conversation to include not just the MAM and the city, which owns the museum building and property, but Adventure Cycling.

Sayer said the project dovetails with the nonprofit's mission of encouraging bicycling.

He said a city needs not only a comprehensive cycling network, but also destinations like the park.

The partnership reached out to downtown businesses, downtown groups, neighborhood representatives and MAM constituents, and received a bevy of endorsements.

Millin cited "the economic and environmental benefits that the park will bring to the downtown and the good healthy effect of having a gathering place for those who work and live downtown."

And there's the start of it all as well: the benefit of the artwork itself to pedestrians.

To be able to walk down the street and see art is "such a gift," Millin said.

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Arts & Entertainment Reporter

Entertainment Editor for The Missoulian.