American Planning Association notes historic character, architecture, mix of uses

BOZEMAN – Main Street in Bozeman is one of the American Planning Association’s “10 Great Streets for 2012” under the Great Places in America program.

APA singled out Main Street for its frontier-town charm, concentration of late 19- and early 20th-century buildings, adaptive reuse of historic structures, and diversity of uses. Most of this nine-block stretch, which runs from North Broadway Avenue on the east to North Third Avenue on the west, is part of a 1987 national historic district.

Through the Great Places in America program, APA recognizes streets, neighborhoods and public spaces featuring unique and authentic characteristics that have evolved from years of thoughtful and deliberate planning by residents, community leaders and planners.

Since APA began Great Places in America in 2007, 60 neighborhoods, 60 streets and 50 public spaces have been designated in 50 states and the District of Columbia. Bozeman’s Main Street is the second Great Place designation in Montana, joining Red Lodge’s Broadway Avenue, which was recognized in 2010.

“Main Street is Bozeman’s time capsule, capturing the city’s history from the 1870s when the street was a gateway to Southwestern Montana mining camps, to today’s role as the economic anchor of Gallatin Valley,” said APA Chief Executive Officer Paul Farmer. “An intense focus on planning and preservation during the past quarter century has protected Main Street’s lively and unique character and helped continued the economic and cultural prosperity found here.”

Once home to tents and cabins, Main Street today features outstanding examples of commercial Queen Anne, Italianate, Romanesque, Neo-gothic Revival and Art Deco architecture, punctuated by the occasional touch of kitsch – such as the revolving yellow horse, now a Bozeman landmark, atop the marquee of the 1883 Gallatin Masonic Lodge No. 6. The Bridger Mountains form a scenic backdrop.

The evolving streetscape that greeted early rail passengers to Bozeman included the 1911 Northern Pacific Railroad Freight Building constructed on East Main Street. One of the city’s finest examples of adaptive reuse, the renovated structure, now home to Montana Ale Works, features an outdoor patio that activates the streetscape and serves as a venue for local events.

Main Street is also home to Bozeman’s oldest building, the 1872 Cooper & Black Building Armory, which used brick to evoke a sense of permanence in this frontier settlement. The building was home to Walter Cooper’s buffalo hide business as well as the city’s first library. Bozeman’s current public library, which opened in 2006 on East Main Street, is a 53,000 square-foot LEED silver facility.

As a cultural center, Bozeman’s Main Street hosted three theaters by the mid-1920s. Fred Willson designed the most opulent, the Renaissance Revival-styled Ellen Theatre. This prolific, local architect worked on more than 1,050 projects including the 1929 eclectic, Art –Deco Baxter Hotel, Gallatin County’s 1911 Gothic Revival jail and 1936 Moderne-style courthouse, and the 1931 Art Deco Hamill Apartments.

Downtown living is a focus of Bozeman’s 2009 Downtown Improvement Plan, which recommends the city “build hundreds of units of housing.” The resulting Downtown Residential Incentive Grant Program helps fund the creation of residential units within the city’s tax increment financing district, which includes much of Main Street.

The TIF district was created in 1995 to jumpstart the urban renewal by funding infrastructure improvements such as pedestrian-friendly streetscapes along Main Street. Five years later a business improvement district formed to ensure downtown’s long-term preservation and vitality. To maintain Main Street’s character, the city passed a 2003 ordinance limiting retail to 75,000 square feet and enacted historic preservation guidelines three years later.

These initiatives have been integral to redevelopment of the 200 block of East Main Street, partially destroyed by a natural gas explosion and fire in 2009. Three of four properties have been rebuilt, despite the national economic downtown.

The nine other APA 2012 Great Streets are Duval Street, Key West, Fla.; Ward Parkway, Kansas City, Mo.; Broadway, Saratoga Springs, N.Y.; Fifth Avenue, New York City, N.Y.; Wall Street, Kingston, N.Y.; Shaker Boulevard, Cleveland, Shaker Heights and Beachwood, Ohio; Grant Street, Pittsburgh, Penn.; Broad Street, Charleston, S.C.; and Gay Street, Knoxville, Tenn.

The American Planning Association is an independent nonprofit educational organization that provides leadership in developing what it calls “vital communities.” APA and its professional institute, the American Institute of Certified Planners, are dedicated to advancing the art, science and profession of good planning – physical, economic and social. APA has offices in Washington, D.C., and Chicago, Ill.