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AJ Glueckert, top, a City of Missoula employee, holds on to a Christmas decoration he is taking before lowering it down to Johnny Munoz, left, also a City of Missoula employee, so he can make sure its secured in the bed of their truck on Tuesday afternoon. As the Christmas decorations come down and the new year is in full swing, the Downtown Missoula Partnership is asking the public for input.

A planning posse of 16 professional consultants will be in Missoula for five full days next week to take public input on a draft of a new Downtown Master Plan.

That document, if adopted after a lengthy vetting process, will guide what looks to be explosive growth in the thriving commercial and residential district over the next decade and beyond.

The Downtown Missoula Partnership is inviting everyone in the community to participate in several upcoming public events to "formulate a vision and plan" for the downtown area, which is in the midst of hundreds of millions of dollars worth of public and private investment in both commercial projects and transportation infrastructure.

Everything will be discussed: parking, housing, land use, transportation, street design, business development, parks, open space and trails, organizers said.

"Downtown Missoula belongs to all of us, and this is the time and place for our community members to share with us what their desires are for the heart of our city," said Tim France, president of the Downtown Business Improvement District's board of directors and the owner of Worden's Market. "We really want all of Missoula to engage in this process because this plan guides all decision-making for downtown."

The DMP has hired Dover, Kohl & Partners, a planning firm based in Florida that specializes in collaborative, public design processes known as "charrettes" and illustrative master plans.

The charrettes will include several public, hands-on open houses, including design sessions from 5-7 p.m. and 7-9 p.m. on Jan. 14 at the Doubletree Hotel. An open design studio will be held at The Public House from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. from Tuesday, Jan. 15 through Thursday, Jan. 17. And a "work in progress" presentation will be held from 4-6 p.m. on Jan. 18 at The Wilma for the public to see all the work completed during the week.

In addition, community members can submit input online at missoulasdowntownmasterplan.mindmixer.com/ starting on Jan. 14. Following the charrette events, the Dover-Kohl team will synthesize the input and create a draft plan, then return to Missoula for more work.

Linda McCarthy, the executive director of the DMP, said the plan will be "fully vetted" before and during its submittal to the Missoula City Council for approval.

"This is the pinnacle of the planning process," she said. "We've been doing a lot of outreach over the last three months. We've been hearing a lot about what people love and don't love about downtown. We've been getting a lot of positive feedback and people definitely feel vested and connected to downtown."

McCarthy said there's a lot of angst over parking downtown, especially because as many as three new hotels will come online over the next few years.

"I personally don't feel that way," she said. "I see parking on the street everywhere, and the new parking garage, 139 public spaces, just opened in the ROAM student housing building."

She also said that hotels will mostly use the parking at night, when there's more available.

"Even with bringing in three or four hotels, it's going to be just fine," she said.

There will also be discussions about street design and safety and whether or not to expand the Central Business District, which would allow new business on the Hip Strip, for example, to avoid having to provide lots of parking spaces.

The original Downtown Master Plan was completed in 2009 and was supposed to last for 25 years, but growth in the area necessitated the need for updates.

"We had over 40 new businesses open in the downtown area last year," McCarthy said. "Many businesses reported having their best year ever last year, with the summer tourism season and the holiday retail shopping season."

She said the construction has people feeling "anxious" about change and fearing gentrification, but overall the mood is positive. The planning process is a way for people to voice their concerns and make sure growth is done in a careful way.

"We want a downtown that's inclusive and creative and sustainable," she said. "It's not just about bricks and mortar. We want places for people to hang out and we want to be able to accommodate growth in a meaningful and planned way."

For more information, contact the DMP via phone at 406-543-4238 or email info@missouladowntown.com.

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