Several valid points have been regarding why downtown Miles City buildings aren't being restored, but a couple have been overlooked.
First, downtown is no longer at the center of Miles City economically or geographically. As has been pointed out, the locus of economic activity shifted out to Haynes Avenue with construction of the interstate. But there is a question here: Why was the interstate placed so far from Main Street and so close (intersects!) to Haynes Avenue? The answer: Geographically, the majority of land south/west of downtown is either in the Tongue River floodplain or is Federal land - either way, it cannot be developed for commercial or residential use. As a result, from Miles City's early days development occurred to the north and east of downtown, and it wasn't long until Downtown became better described as "Edge of Town".
When it comes to shopping and commerce, convenience is king. So as more people lived on the north/east side of town, shopping downtown became less convenient. Add to that the fact that historic downtowns were not constructed around the automobile (or more to the point, PARKING for the automobile), so that became another inconvenience. Market forces naturally pushed commercial activity away downtown into the newly developing areas. Without the commitment of visionary leadership, including the commitment of funds, downtown Miles City's fate was pretty much sealed.
(Grand Junction Colorado is an example of a city that took steps beginning in the early 60s and again in the 1990s to maintain the vitality of its downtown. Interested people can go to http://www.mesacounty.us/...ction.aspx
and click on Greater Downtown Plan link to see how it's done. And no, I was not involved in this plan in the 60s or at any time since, so I have no dog in the hunt. I simply lived there from 1980 to 1983 and loved every minute of it, including shopping and socializing downtown.)
So, geographical conditions, market forces, and lack of leadership all play a role in the demise of downtown Miles City.
Now, do I think tax-increment financing is the answer? No, not at the moment. Why not? Because it's too soon to use it as an economic development tool for downtown. TIFs do not stimulate investment - they take advantage of it and nurture ADDITIONAL investment. They are an effective tool in areas that are already undergoing an economic rebirth but need help to continue doing so. Downtown Miles City isn't there yet. Tax abatement, low-interest guaranteed loans, and outright development grants, coupled with municipal investment in infrastructure would all be better first steps, preferable in combination with one another. THEN, when redevelopment starts occurring and the ad valorem tax base is increasing as a result of those investments and the consequent increase in economic activity, THAT is when tax-increment financing will have an impact as a funding source for continuing the trend.
Some might say that doing anything is better than doing nothing, but I disagree. It takes a lot of effort and political capital to get a TIF district approved and in place. If it fails (as I UNHAPPILY predict a Downtown TIF district will), it will only make it harder in the future to take the correct steps in the correct sequence to stimulate and perpetuate downtown revitalization. So while I applaud the efforts of those involved to do SOMETHING, I cannot help but state my opinion that the right time to do TIFs is after other things are in place and the ad valorem tax base is already showing signs of growth.
A Side Note: The nurturing of downtown Miles City is one of two missed opportunities that became apparent to me during my residency there from 2007 to 2010, the other being the nearly complete isolation from not just one but two beautiful rivers. Nature blessed the area with the confluence of the tongue and Yellowstone rivers. Admittedly, that blessing is mixed with the curse of flooding, but other cities dealt with that challenge by embracing the recreational and leisure opportunities. Former Mayor Joe Whalen initiated the River Awareness programs to give Miles City residents a venue to explore how these resources, historically treated as lemons, might be turned into lemonade. I'm guessing the current mayor and city council have let that insightful leadership initiative sink into the mud and silt of the riverbeds. If so, that's a real shame and another lost opportunity to begin something that could produce real economic and quality of life benefits for Miles City.
[Edited by Crapduck Lives! (7/10/2015 9:27:33 PM)]