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Havre group working to beautify alley


Last updated 2/18/2021 at 11:35am

Courtesy photo/Debbie Vandeberg

Lights hang above the alley on the 300 Block of Second Street as part of a downtown beautification project.

The Havre group Downtown Montana Matters has been working to beautify the alley between Second and Third streets and Third and Fourth avenues with LED lights and artwork as part of their mission to make the town more enjoyable to walk in.

One of the group's members, Debbie Vandeberg, said the organization, formerly called the Havre Main Street Group, was created as a result of a meeting years ago about becoming an official Main Street program through Montana's Department of Commerce.

The group operates under that program now but has maintained its goals and functions held since its creation.

The group is responsible for a number or projects in town, including bike racks downtown and a mural on the Hill County Printing Building.

Vandeberg said the goal of this latest project is to create an art alley in a well-traveled alley that could use some work anyway.

"The vision for that was to create an area that has some ambiance to it, bring a variety of public art, some light, some beautification," she said.

Vandeberg said alleys are generally overlooked spaces for beautification and this one could use some TLC, especially considering how many restaurants and bars are in the area.

Paul Tuss, executive director of Bear Paw Development Corp., the fiscal agent for the project's funds, is also involved with the art alley, which he said could be used for events even with social distancing requirements in place.

"The idea is to take a pretty ordinary alley in the downtown business district and jazz it up a little bit, make it more than just another alley," he said.

The LED lights in the alley have already been put up, after the group got permission from building owners for Cottonwood Cinemas, Crawford Distillery, Northsky Holdings/Guild, Havre Hardware and Home, Helmbrecht Studio, Hill County Title and Koefod Agency.

Vandeberg said they also worked with the city and got funding from from the Hill County Community Foundation and Wells Fargo Bank and help from NorthWestern Energy with the lights.

She said Jason Loch of Loch Electronics and his team helped them put the lights up and they did a great job.

Lighting supplies were provided by Havre Hardware and Home and electrical anchors were provided by Koefod Agency and Crawford Distillery.

"As with any project, it requires a lot of people and businesses to work together," Vandeberg said.

She said she actually wasn't told when the lights were operational, only learning it secondhand from people excited to see them.

"It was fun to hear the excitement and buzz that lights were going to create," she said.

Tuss said projects like these have the potential not just to transform specific areas, but entire communities if they are part of a larger plan, something he said he's seen in places in Montana and beyond.

"It has the potential to be a high-impact, low-budget way to enhance downtown Havre," he said.

He said the organization is hoping to create a downtown master plan to coordinate multiple projects under a single vision and has requested funding through the state of Montana.

He said other funding sources for the plan are available, but they haven't had a chance to look into them deeply enough just yet.

Vandeberg said it has been difficult to coordinate the project during COVID-19, but it's good to be able to do something like this for people during this difficult time.

The next step in the project, which she said is still being brainstormed, is what kind of art should be put up.

She said the Hi-Line Arts Council, which she is also part of, has discussed metal art projects, wall paintings and many other ideas.

Downtown Montana Matters already did a test run of sorts for the art alley in December when local artists in a variety of mediums including dance, music, pottery and painting all came together in the alley to film an introductory video for an event, she said.

Vandeberg said she didn't want to put the cart before the horse, because the group still has permission-seeking to do, but it is looking at another alley to set up lights in this summer using what's left over from the current project.


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