Please Participate - Downtown Survey
Posted by Historic Preservation Office (+27) 5 years ago
The City's Interim Tax Increment Finance District (TIFD) committee continues working to develop great financial incentives to attract business expansion and new businesses downtown.

As you may have read in the Star recently, students from the Capstone Finance Class at MSU-Billings are assisting our TIFD Committee. It is our wish to offer the best financial assistance possible to existing and future downtown business people. To help our team better understand the business environment of downtown Miles City, we are asking the public to please complete this short survey! It would be great if you would share the survey with your friends, neighbors and business contacts as well!

You may also pick up a paper copy of the survey at City Hall if you would prefer to fill it out in the shade with a glass of lemonade!

All answers are confidential, so please be frank - let us know what you think! Please give me a call at 874-8616 if you have any questions or suggestions.

We very much appreciate your help - thank you!

Here is you link to start the survey: https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/3L2MQBY
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Posted by cubby (+2577) 5 years ago
Nice survey.
I think one of things they need to do to help is tear down some of the older buildings and build new. Those buildings maybe historic but they are unfit for any business to move into and would be way to much money to restore.
If this doesn't happen I see downtown Miles City being a ghost town in the next 20 years. IMO
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Posted by MilesCity.com Webmaster (+9864) 5 years ago
Reply to cubby (#360419)
cubby wrote:
I think one of things they need to do to help is tear down some of the older buildings and build new. Those buildings maybe historic but they are unfit for any business to move into and would be way to much money to restore.
If this doesn't happen I see downtown Miles City being a ghost town in the next 20 years. IMO


Are you serious??? That's just so wrong.
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Posted by Richard Bonine, Jr. (+14303) 5 years ago
I think one of things they need to do to help is tear down some of the older buildings and build new. Those buildings maybe historic but they are unfit for any business to move into and would be way to much money to restore. 
If this doesn't happen I see downtown Miles City being a ghost town in the next 20 years.


ARE YOU OUT OF YOUR FLIPING MIND????

Yes, it may cost a little more to restore them and make them useable for new business. But those building can be part of the charm that draws people back downtown. Sheridan WY is a good example of a bustling Main St and is a very close to the same demographics of Miles City. They have an interstate and a WalMart on the edge of town. They also have a very busy Main Street with many old buildings that have been restored. The biggest problem has been leaders that can't see outside the city limits and won't go talk to other communities that have successfully revililtzed their downtown areas. I applaud the current efforts of the historic preservation officer to get the ball rolling. 

Miles City has pretty well used up all of the land along Haynes. Repurposing the downtown area and the exsisting buildings makes a lot of sense.
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Posted by cubby (+2577) 5 years ago
I knew a lot of people would fight about this. But if it is so easy why are no business moving in downtown? Because it would cost a lot of money to repair these buildings is why. The old Ben Frankling building is a good example. If a person was to buy the building and then repair it back to standards and then take the cost of moving a business in there and opening the doors it wouldn't make any sense. Again I really don't care if you guys like what I say, it's the truth take a look at downtown and how many open buildings there are, that have been empty for a long time. Oh wait a minute if we get lucky Dave Thompson might buy them all up and fill them with his junk.
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Posted by Wendy Wilson (+6174) 5 years ago
The Ben Franklin building is a mystery. Apparently it has been for sale but the owner has turned down offers that were for the full asking price.
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Posted by Amorette Allison (+10501) 5 years ago
If you take into account demolition and reconstruction, restoration runs about 75% percent the cost of new, plus you are working with much better quality construction. There are not a lot of marble entryways in cheap steel buildings. And there are some very tidy tax credits for restoring old buildings not available to new construction.

The Ben Franklin building issue is the owners. Not a discussion for a public forum but, for some reason, they do not wish to actually sell it.

[Edited by Amorette Allison (6/30/2015 10:18:02 AM)]
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Posted by cubby (+2577) 5 years ago
So again, why are no new business moving downtown if the condition of the buildings has nothing to do with it?
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Posted by MilesCity.com Webmaster (+9864) 5 years ago
Reply to cubby (#360435)
I would assume the decline of Main Street mostly has to do with where the Interstate was placed, and then the later arrival of Wal-Mart. Haynes has become the commercial strip that many, many other towns have - which is not bad, it's obviously an asset, but I doubt the age or condition of downtown buildings has anything to do with the development, or lack of, in that area.

Also, many of the Main Street buildings are historical. They're landmarks. They are what makes Miles City - Miles City. There are countless little new homogenized communities and neighborhoods, all looking the same, from one end of the country to the other - that would absolutely love to have an actual bona fide historic district.
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Posted by cubby (+2577) 5 years ago
Larry, I completely get the whole historic downtown Miles City thing here. So here's a question someone might be able to answer. The funds that are said to be set aside for restoring some of the buildings in the historic downtown area, is there enough money to bring the buildings back up to code? Because some of the buildings on main street have structural damage that would cost a large sum of money to be brought back up to standards. Or, because they are historic do they not need to be brought up to code? How many times can this money be dipped into? I have heard past owners of the buildings have used up their funds and did no improvements to the buildings. So many of the funds may not be available to the new owners.
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Posted by MilesCity.com Webmaster (+9864) 5 years ago
I don't know. I don't have an answer to those questions. Perhaps someone else does?
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Posted by Amorette Allison (+10501) 5 years ago
No one is given a free ride. If you build a new building, you don't expect someone to pay for it, do you? The difference is, with restoration, there are tax credits which can account for a PORTION of the restoration. Since no money has been collected for the TIF yet and no by-laws have been written, how much there will be and how much will spent is unknown.

I would point out that LOTS of places have done very well with downtown restoration. Been to Billings recently?
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Posted by cubby (+2577) 5 years ago
I have been to Billings recently, but unfortunately didn't have to go to the historic part of Billings for any reason so have no idea what they have restored.

Not trying to speak for everyone but the younger generation doesn't really care about historic values in buildings if those buildings aren't selling what they are into. Just saying, restoring the historic buildings won't grantee a successful business.
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Posted by MilesCity.com Webmaster (+9864) 5 years ago
I believe the downtown district in Billings is balancing both - managing to sell what younger people actually want. It has hip/cool bars, restaurants, theaters, shops, etc. - in a historic venue.

For one example, this used to be the crusty old Greyhound Bus Station:

https://www.facebook.com/thepubstation

There are too many other to mention, but here's a site devoted to the downtown area:

http://downtownbillings.com/

Or you can watch the video they made:



Obviously Miles City is different than Billings, but I don't see why the same principles and ideas couldn't eventually be be applied.
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Posted by Wendy Wilson (+6174) 5 years ago
Reply to Amorette Allison (#360433)
Amorette Allison wrote:

The Ben Franklin building issue is the owners. Not a discussion for a public forum but, for some reason, they do not wish to actually sell it.


Why is this not a discussion for this forum? The Ben Franklin building is a blight on Main Street. It is a dirty, run down storefront with an odd assortment of knick-knacks in the window. The least they could do is cover the windows so that you can't see the interior when you walk by.
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Posted by AshleyRoness (+31) 5 years ago
I don't think anyone should jump straight to the conclusion that the younger generation doesn't care about the historic part of town. I'm part of a younger generation and I've always loved historic features in towns. I know not all young people feel the way I do but I do think many would care if the buildings were torn down.
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Posted by Historic Preservation Office (+27) 5 years ago
Sorry this is so long - but tried to use what little time I have to answer all the questions!

Thank you to everyone for commenting. First, thanks to Richard – it is always good to know people appreciate the effort! He is right about Sheridan as an example. I’ve travelled through there regularly for years going to see family in Colorado. Since the late ‘90s and early 2000’s people there have turned that town around – from a condition almost worse than ours to what it is today. It is proof that businesses can thrive in old buildings.

Cubby, the best I’ve ever heard it is expressed was very simply: “People don’t travel to Paris to see the latest McDonald’s franchise”. Larry is right – our Main Street is Miles City’s unique stamp of individuality in an increasingly nondescript world.

But, Cubby’s opinion actually reflects what a lot of people think about the cost of renovating old buildings. But as Amorette mentioned, there are any number of programs and tax credits to help with the cost to modernize and bring a beautiful historic building up to code and energy efficiency while saving money over the cost of new construction. The first savings of course is always the quality of the material - it is a fact that they “don’t build them like they used to”. Second of course is not spending the money for excavating and pouring a foundation or basement, and so on. At each step of the construction process, working with existing materials is almost always less costly than ordering and shipping in new. Not to mention the impact on the environment.

The next question Cubby asks also is important for all of us to understand so we can be effective in addressing it. She asks, “So, why are no new businesses moving downtown if the condition of the buildings has nothing to do with it?” Larry is right Cubby, without customer traffic, businesses can’t survive. Towns all over America had their hearts ripped out when the Interstate system was constructed in the 1960s. All the little shops along Main were suddenly without automobiles, and thus pedestrian traffic. As a result many of those businesses packed up and moved to the Interstate exits to try and save their businesses. Here, the situation was made worse fire after fire – from about the 1980s on. The result of course has been the slow, ongoing deterioration we’ve seen taking place on Miles City’s Main Street. So what do we do? We look at every single asset that we have to bring customers back downtown. This survey will help us evaluate what we have to offer – and what people want to have available to them in our downtown area.

The City is just tying up the loose ends on establishing the Tax Increment Finance District (TIFD) – just a bit more red tape. Technically it is called and “Urban Renewal Plan with Tax Increment Finance Authority. (I just like the acronym TIFD better than URP). Created under state statute which impose strict regulations, a TIFD provides a way in which a City can address deteriorating business neighborhoods.

Here is how it works: The City establishes an Urban Renewal District with Tax Increment Finance Authority as defined by state law. The district has specific boundaries defined by the City, and the Montana Department of Revenue establishes a "Base Year" and certifies the tax values which are used to measure incremental revenue over the next 15 years.

A portion of the tax dollars being already paid by property owners within the district’s boundaries are then allocated to the City to spend on improvements within those boundaries. Only that portion of the tax dollars that comes from the increase in tax values or "incremental tax revenue" over the years can be allocated for that purpose. So for example, if your property is valued by the Department of Revenue in 2015 at $100 in taxes that year, and at $200 for 2016, Department of Revenue would send that through a meat grinder of a mathematical formula to determine - the "Incremental Value" that would be allocated to the City. By state statute, that money can only be invested within the boundaries of the district. The City must invest in infrastructure and anything that will improve the blight and deterioration that has occurred in the district. That investment can be in the form of loans or grants to businesses or new water/sewer/streets/alleys for example.

The role of the TIFD Committee is to help the City manage that money carefully so the TIF District businesses benefit as much as possible.

This survey will help our team design the most effective financial incentives possible to achieve that goal!
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Posted by Historic Preservation Office (+27) 5 years ago
Now – Let’s talk about parking. I really need to hear what you think about that.

Why? Because Cubby, that is the number one barrier our thousands of hours of research has found to development downtown. No parking.

So – would you pay for parking? Would you pay parking tickets? Would you walk from designated parking lots to shop downtown? What are your thoughts, ideas – let us know!
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Posted by cubby (+2577) 5 years ago
Thanks so much for some of the answers I was looking for. I am a male by the way but the has nothing to do with this subject so on to business.

I wouldn't personally pay for parking because I have no problem getting some exercise, and besides that a person could make it across Miles City in no time at all so walking a few blocks doesn't bother me.
As for parking space, are you guys thinking of building a parking garage? If so where would that be built? Next question is do you think that a big franchise would do the restoration on a existing building to make it up to code and move in? I don't think they would IMO, they would build new. So if we are expecting the locally owned, mom and pop businesses to move in and get this done I just can't see it happening.
I am no means grouping the younger people all in one but for the most part the young generation wouldn't care what the inside of the building looked like as long as they are selling what they need, unless your walking into Cabelas or Sheels holy buckets those are some nice stores to look at. Again only my IMO
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Posted by JIMBO (+2009) 5 years ago
The "parking problem" can be fixed by enforcing the time limits and fining shop owners/employees more for parking on main street.
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Posted by Historic Preservation Office (+27) 5 years ago
The cost of a big parking structure is pretty significant. My question was more about paid parking lots located around town. We are curious if people would walk from a parking area to stores located on Main and side streets.
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Posted by athome (+362) 5 years ago
My understanding is that Main St. is a designated Highway? So in that vein, it cannot be reduced to one lane? My thought has always been (if it can be done) to reduce from 4th street to 11th or 12th st to a one lane road. You could then remove the opposite lane of traffic and the turn lane, freeing up considerable space for pull in slanted parking all up and down the road. It also increases the ability to significantly increase the width of the walks in front of the shops to make it much more appealing. Landscaping, benches, water features, stores could have outdoor seating and so on. The imagination is the limitation if it was an option to free up that kind of space on the road. But again, i'm not sure if it can be done, depending on the designation of the road. And perhaps there is a way around that as well.

Any thoughts?
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Posted by Amorette Allison (+10501) 5 years ago
The problem with diagonal parking in this day and age is giant pickups. Park next to a huge four door, four wheel drive--which sticks out into the driving lanes to begin with--and you have no way to avoid backing up blind.
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Posted by Ag (+66) 5 years ago
I think athome makes a good point. I am not sure what I think in regards to parking, but in regards to the other items mentioned. I think one of the things that is missing from downtown Miles City is the charm/ambiance that other successful downtown areas have. Some of the buildings have the charm, but there is something off with the overall feel, in my opinion.
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Posted by Oddjob (+186) 5 years ago
Reply to Richard Bonine, Jr. (#360422)
Richard Bonine, Jr. wrote:
Sheridan WY is a good example of a bustling Main St and is a very close to the same demographics of Miles City. They have an interstate and a WalMart on the edge of town. They also have a very busy Main Street with many old buildings that have been restored.


I haven't been to Sheridan in 25 years and I couldn't remember anything special about it. After reading Richards post, I was curious about the "bustling Main St" comment so I did a "Street View" session of the downtown.

The first thing that jumped out at me is that a significant length of Main St has been rebuilt with new sidewalks, curbs and gutters and ADA-compliant corners and upgraded lighting. The other thing I noticed is that parallel parking is still available on both sides of the street. No areas are throttled down to pedestrian malls yet all the business seem to be thriving.

To what would you contribute this apparently healthy and vibrant downtown to, Richard? The infrastructure upgrade alone required huge money. Where did that money come from? It seems to me that Miles City has a somewhat similar geographic, cultural and economic status as Sheridan, but it seems that something else happened to Sheridan besides railroads, ag and tourism.
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Posted by Tim Wagoner (+757) 5 years ago
Could the fact that Sheridan has a population of 29,000+ and has maintained over 20,000 people since the mid 70's have something to do with it.
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Posted by Elizabeth Emilsson (+795) 5 years ago
I think the issue is money and who has it. After the fire a few years back, Miles City did a fantastic job of rebuilding and refurbishing the buildings that give it the old West ambiance. The Star and the furniture Store on the Corner were once empty buildings and the store that moved in the old Holiday gas station seem to be thriving businesses. The JC Penny store turned into the Discovery
pond which was charming and now is the Montana Made store.

Which leaves us with the old Ben Franklin Store. Contrary to your prediction, Cubby, I can see that moving in the future with the owner selling because of death or taxes. Witness the Bucking Horse Sale, as far as parking goes. With the extra thousands in town, people find parking a few blocks west and North East of Mains Street and do not have more than a five or ten minute walk to the parade. In fact the walk is good for them.
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Posted by Oddjob (+186) 5 years ago
Reply to Tim Wagoner (#360519)
Tim Wagoner wrote:
Could the fact that Sheridan has a population of 29,000+ and has maintained over 20,000 people since the mid 70's have something to do with it.


That would definitely make a difference. Bigger tax base, etc. But on the other hand, I've seen a lot of other towns with similar sized populations with dead downtown centers. All the retail centers having moved out to the freeway or wherever Walmart jumped out of the ground. Some of these places have put a lot of money into the downtown areas and tried things like narrow one-way streets and pedestrian malls with no parking and got nothing in return. The town I live in is about to make the jump that eliminates all the parking downtown and has already screwed up all the streets. The plan is to turn the parking lots into pedestrian malls. The current businesses that would be lining them are low-life bars and pawn shops.

Their have been some boutique-type businesses open up, and a few specialty restaurants, but it's like a revolving door. They open and close or move within about a year. The only steady thing that got people downtown after 6:00PM was the peeler bar and the City just pulled their liquor license.

What did they do different, or what is different in Sheridan that held the businesses downtown?
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Posted by Joe Whalen (+622) 5 years ago
Re: Diagonal Parking



Some of these benefits include increased parking capacity (10 to 12 feet of lateral curb per vehicle, versus 22 feet per vehicle for parallel parking), clear sight lines when pulling out, better maneuverability on snowy days, ease of loading and unloading cargo and helping children in and out of car seats, and protection for children because the open car door now directs young children back to a point of safety rather than out into the street.

http://www.pedbikeinfo.or...fm?id=3974

[Edited by Joe Whalen (7/6/2015 9:53:44 AM)]
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Posted by Oddjob (+186) 5 years ago
Some States are eliminating the parallel parking requirement from drivers license testing because too many people can't do it and don't pass.

How in the hell will they ever master something that requires using your mirrors?
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Posted by Bobodo2 (+119) 5 years ago
Reply to cubby (#360435)
Why aren't they moving to the downtown? Because it seems the city fathers are more interested in the high priced lots on Haynes by the interstate is why..was also thinking it could be the fact they don't want change to come to town but I feel its more the fact new buildings bring bigger taxes so yeah, they are going to support new building vs old restorations
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Posted by cubby (+2577) 5 years ago
If they don't want change why would they build new versus a fixer upper? Not sure I understand what your talking about
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Posted by Crapduck Lives! (+165) 5 years ago
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)]
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Posted by Forsyth Mike (+441) 5 years ago
We have diagonal parking in downtown Forsyth. It hasn't really caused many accidents due to relatively light traffic on Main Street, but it can be difficult (and scary) to back out. And you only gain maybe 3 or 4 parking spaces per block anyway. I wish we could go back to parallel parking. With MC's busier street, diagonal parking would be a real hassle in my opinion.

I never understood why people have no problem walking a quarter mile across a WalMart parking lot just to get to the front door, plus another half mile or more inside the store to get the items they want and get back out, but they gripe if they can't park within 100 feet of a downtown business.
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