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Nick Checota, talks about his plans for the historic Wilma Theatre in March while standing in front of a reflection of the building that houses the Missoula landmark.

The Missoula Downtown Association recognized a select handful of businesses, volunteers and entrepreneurs at its annual banquet while celebrating 40 years of working to improve the vibrancy and economic clout of the heart of the city Thursday night.

Highlights of the ceremony included Geoff Badenoch's detailed and vivid recollection – accompanied by a slideshow – of how Missoula's core area was developed over the years between 1975 and 1985 thanks to the collaboration between countless dedicated public and private entities.

During it all, the Missoula Downtown Association grew in strength and played a pivotal role, said Badenoch, who is interim director of the Missoula Parking Commission and served as director of the Missoula Redevelopment Agency for 18 years.

Harry Watkins of Zip Beverage was recognized as Downtown Committee Member of the Year for his leadership in putting on the Winter Brewfest, Downtown ToNight and a host of other events.

"They wouldn't happen without Harry's leadership and commitment," said emcee Mike Smith, a well-known local radio personality.

MDA Board Member of the Year honors went to Heidi Starrett, who said she was humbled by the award because the work of all the other board members made her accomplishments possible.

Ryan Torres of the Wilma Theatre and Top Hat Lounge was named Downtown Employee of the Year. The Downtown Volunteer of the Year award went to Karen Snow of ABC/Fox Montana. The Downtown Business of the Year went to Roemer's Tire, a longtime fixture on Broadway.

The Downtowner of the Year went to Nick Checota, who owns the Wilma and Top Hat with his wife. Checota purchased and remodeled the Wilma last year, turning it into one of the premier music venues in the region.

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