By Ross Markman
It's one side of a city block filled with dirt and rocks and a 22-foot Colorado spruce. It's surrounded by a 3-foot-high orange, plastic fence. A crushed beer can rests in the earth toward the center.
In three months, this same scene will be the site of Havre's Town Square, a project spearheaded by the Havre Area Chamber of Commerce.
The Town Square spans First Street from Third Avenue to Fourth Avenue. It will officially open with a ribbon cutting on Sept. 20, kicking off at the 22nd annual Havre Festival Days.
"It's just going to brighten up the downtown area. It's going to put a little greenery as opposed to asphalt," said Stockman Bank president Chuck Wimmer, a member of the Chamber's board of directors. "It's more of an aesthetic addition than anything else."
Jennifer Hoffman, funeral director at Holland and Bonine Funeral Home and also a member of the board, agreed.
"I think it's going to clean up downtown, make it more presentable, green," she said. "We've heard a lot of comments from people coming through town and they sometimes say that it's kind of dirty. You don't see the green and the grass until you drive down Fifth Avenue."
The Town Square project, according to Chamber executive director Debbie Vandeberg, is in its final stages. Design for the electrical and irrigation systems, she said, is under way.
"Once they lay the irrigation and electrical, the rest of it is easy," she said.
Area businesses like Badland Tree & Landscaping, Clausen & Sons, Patrick Construction, and Syntech have donated labor to the project, Vandeberg said.
"People need to understand that this project is being done by local businesses and on their free time," she said. "The community needs to understand that it's going to take a little longer because these are people volunteering their time and donating their expertise."
The Town Square, which Vandeberg said will cost roughly $100,000 to build, has been entirely funded by the Chamber through donations, grants and fund-raisers. About 75 percent of the money has been raised so far, she said.
Contributions by area business have included $15,000 from the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Foundation, a charitable subsidiary of the BNSF Railway, and $2,500 from Soroptimists International of Havre.
The city, Vandeberg noted, is not paying for any work done on the Town Square, which, she said, could be used to host things like art shows, the Saturday market and Christmas activities.
"And tourists can stop here and rest while they're shopping," she said.
The Town Square will be equipped with park benches and an assortment of flowers and shade trees. The surface will be a combination of grass and brick, and in some places, stone pavers.
The idea to build the Town Square, Vandeberg said, was first discussed in the mid-1990s when the city commissioned a revitalization study.
"It was talked then about putting a park or something like this in the area," she said.
It wasn't until 1999 after a meeting of the Chamber's board of directors that the project came to fruition, Vandeberg said.
"It's been a long haul," she said. "It was 16 business leaders that sat in a meeting and said, We want to do this.'"