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Having an appealing gateway entry for downtown Hamilton has been a dream for over a decade and now the project has picked up momentum.

The public invited to give input on what they would like to see from 5-7 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 13, at the Bedford Building.

Hamilton City Planner Matthew Rohrbach said the city wants to make the intersection of U.S. Highway 93 and Main Street more welcoming, to let visitors know there is a downtown and to balance the needs of vehicles, bikes and pedestrians.

The project may feel familiar as the Hamilton Downtown Master Plan, completed in 2014, featured this intersection prominently as a way to showcase downtown.

Rohrbach said the plan was good, but was more of a concept.

“It had graphics that showed general visions of what it could look like and why you want to do it but it didn’t really dive down to the nuts and bolts of ‘okay, what are we going to do and what will MDT sign off on,’” Rohrbach said.

The Montana Department of Transportation (MDT) manages U.S. Highway 93 as well as Marcus and Main streets, as those are both state highways. Every proposed change will need MDT approval.

Rohrbach said the project is called “Connect 93” and the goal is to, “bring the community together around a shared vision for the gateway area and to develop a plan of action for improving mobility and sense of place.”

He is working with community members, local business owners, landowners, Montana Rail Link and MDT to identify specific solutions and make an action plan.

“The downtown plan was more of a policy-level plan, more conceptual in nature, whereas this is going to be more action-focused,” Rohrbach said. “Hopefully what comes out of this process is a clear direction with steps for us to take, short term and long term, the nuts and bolts of how do we actually do this.”

The Hamilton Downtown Association is on board and Rohrbach wants to add community members.

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The city has partnered with Community Builders, a nonprofit, dedicated to helping local leaders create strong and prosperous communities throughout the West. According to their website, their goals include strengthening local leadership, inspiring community action and enabling the “on the ground progress” so ideas become realities.

Community Builders will be in town next week for community engagement that includes stakeholder interviews, focus groups, a council work session and a community event.

“They focus on issues of transportation, the economy and housing and every year they have a call for projects for local assistance,” Rohrbach said. “We applied to the competitive process and were selected. We’ve been working with them for over two months.”

Local leaders, business owners and the public will have opportunities for participating in the community conversation. Everyone is welcome and encouraged to attend two events on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings of next week.

First is a regular city council meeting, always open to the public, that will be focused on the Connect 93 project from 5 to 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 12, in City Hall.

Second is a community event from 5 to 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 13, in the Bedford Building. It will begin with a brief introduction to the Connect 93 project then will have some participation and mapping exercises to create more community input.

“We are trying to inform people about the project and then hear from them what issues they have with the intersection, the area around the intersection and then what ideas they have,” Rohrbach said. “When I talk to people about this they seem to really care about it and everyone has a lot to say. The hope is this process will take us from talking about it to action.”

There will be additional times for public engagement. The process is to share a vision and get ideas now, host more workshops after the first of the year and conclude the discovery phase in April or May.

With the scope of the Connect 93 project being an unknown and funding not in hand, the completion date is not in sight. But, the ball is rolling towards an improved and welcoming gateway with a strong sense of place for the heart of the Hamilton community.

For more information visit the project website at www.connect93hamilton.com and plan to attend the meetings Nov. 12 and 13.

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