Belgrade is one of the fastest-growing communities in Montana and the country. With that growth, there needs to be some development. We sat down with Jason Carp, the Belgrade City Planner, to talk about Belgrade's growth and some of the changes coming to the city.
Jason Karp: I think the real story can be told in our school district. You know the high school going double A. That is huge. We are kinda with the big boys now, you know the big 7. The double A district, you have to have over 20,000 people in a school district to support that and we do. Population wise we are expecting that we are going to be right around 10,000 in the city limits for the census, that will make us the 8th largest city in Montana. 7th is Kalispell. Billings, Missoula, Great Falls, Butte, Helena are the big ones. Now we are looking at the 10,000 mark as an achievement. We are not a little town anymore. We are a small city.
I: Is there more funding that comes with the 10,000 mark. I know that's why Bozeman is so keen on the census because it moves them into the metropolitan city classification?
Karp: It won’t matter if we go over 10,000 or not if Bozeman goes over 50,000. It will become an MPO and will in-cooperate Belgrade. It may even go out to Manhattan. It will for sure take in Four Corners, Belgrade, Bozeman and the valley floor.
I: Would that add funding for Belgrade?
Karp: It changes funding. It doesn’t necessarily give us more. One of the problems is that the State of Montana now has 3 Metro Areas and they are adding a 4th. It doesn’t mean that there is more funding right now just that it will get split 4 ways instead of 3. You know unless another transportation bill passes or something. So that's a little bit of the unknown. It will change how we plan. We will have to take a more regional view of things. Now each city works with MDT on their own projects but with an MPO means more region wide look. Meaning Bozeman won't have the major say, it will be county, and both cities looking at it.
I: What about the airport and the crazy growth they have seen?
Karp: The airports growth is a huge asset. I mean there is anywhere from 700-1000 jobs out there and many of them live here in Belgrade. That's one of the largest employers in Belgrade. And the airport is why we got the new interchange. They are key to us. We just want to make sure our downtown is nice enough and we are really working hard to do that. So those airport dollars will fall off on from those cars that drive out of town. A Lot of that will be from the airport plaza as they come this way through downtown. We have created an urban renewal district to help with that.
I: Where is that?
Karp: Well it’s all down Main street up to Jackrabbit here and goes down to Jefferson and then it angles back. We are creating a tax increment district. So any new buildings going in for that district, the tax dollars for that will go back into the district. And so our first project is too, when we get enough money, to create a bond that will allow us to completely rebuild main street all the way down to the drainage including, curbs, gutters, sidewalks, lighting. We can’t widen it. The right away from mainstreet is very constrained. We just have to do things to make traffic flow better. Traffic light at the four way. Eventually we have to get the parking off of Main street. There are a few areas that we can add parking lots too. When we do that we ask the the main street businesses to allow us to have those parking spots to do turn lanes and have a proper intersection.
I: So is downtown kinda the priority?
I: So start there and?
Karp: Ya and other parts go across the tracks and go down Madison. That can become almost a second downtown corridor. Taking Broadway where it turns into Madison. All that is zoned commercial. The old newspaper office sold, there has been some talk of redeveloping that area. That will be a little later. Main street is first.
Karp: We just passed our new growth policy and now we are hiring a consultant to rework our zoning codes. With that we are doing a new downtown urban plan and that is one of the options. If we took central and rezone that residential to commercial and allow the residential to be grandfathered in. Eventually those lots would go to higher density. Then make central more of a main street, diverting traffic through central which is wider for that. Then make main street, less emphasized for through traffic which would make it more walkable. Which would make it safer for that. That's an idea we are kicking around.
Karp: Another huge project that we are kicking around. We have acquired the new fire station. And then the plans there. We would tear that building down to build a new library. Our library right now is raising funds to either expand or to do that and build a new facility right there on our biggest park. Something like Bozeman’s library is a very stunning building. That's a few years off. You know, but our librarian is great and can get the money.
I: With the growth in the valley are you seeing more commercial interests coming in?
Karp: Ya. It's slow. Costco was somewhat interested in us but haven’t heard from them in a bit. A few interested box stores are looking at Jackrabbit, on the old saw mill site. Until Jackrabbit gets widened the State won’t give them any new approaches or won't want to increase any traffic. The underpass and the widening of Jackrabbit which is something we are working on getting done to help with that. It's just so expensive. It's a state highway. But we can’t do much if we don’t deal with the railroad tracks.
Are you seeing restaurants wanting to move in?
Karp: Mackenzie River is working on opening its new space soon. We just had Wendy’s move in and Cosmic Pizza. Then we have the airport plaza that will have a few places as well this summer.
I: What is going on over there in the plaza?
Karp: Well, I just issued a permit for a gas station over there. We met with the developers about a 3-4 story hotel. Got approval for a bunch of workforce housing in there as well. Apartments with shared kitchens and such. They see that as a huge need for Yellowstone Club and airline crews as well.
I: Are there more hotels coming in?
Karp: There is another one that will come in right after the first. They will be branded, a national chain.
I: What do you think the next 5-10 years in Belgrade looks like?
Karp: I think its going to keep growing. You know its hard to say what the national economy will do but it just seems like with our access to the airport. The fact that is can be a little more affordable here we will keep growing. Maybe it will be slower for a bit.
I: How would you summarize how this growth is changing the community?
Karp: Well it’s bringing a completely demographic then we have had before. Belgrade has always been a live in and let live kind of people. I'll do my thing you do your thing kind of group. And with new growth and higher prices we have people moving in that don’t have that same kind of attitude. We have a chamber of commerce. That is asking us to adopt design standards. That used to be never a thing. Now it's pretty universal. It’s probably for the better. I mean a more engaged population means more care. There are people trying to make Belgrade a place. The future in Belgrade is pretty bright. The pieces are in place that have set the course for growth in the coming years.
Karp: There are places in Montana that aren't growing and Belgrade is always growing. You look at Bozeman and their big issue is that people are building too many big buildings and a lot of places in the state wish that was the case. The whole gulch area in Helena is slow. But we are growing. We need to work on more amenities and trails. Things like that makes a community more desirable. The attitude used to be that "oh we are Belgrade. We can’t have nice things." and that has changed to "No, we can have nice things." So ya we are trying to get things like approval for a pool and stuff like that. We have several people working on the library as well. It used to be I slept in Belgrade and live in Bozeman. But that mindset is changing.