Missoula has a record when it comes to civic improvements that can't seem to take off. The Missoula County Fairgrounds redevelopment is still taxiing through preliminary discussions. There's been little word on either the Missoula Events Center or the Missoula Performing Arts Center in over a year. And when it comes to the Florence Hotel revival, let's just say we're not holding our breath.
So it came as no surprise last week when the push to find a new home for the Poverello Center was abruptly called back to the departure gate. On June 21, Mayor John Engen publicly withdrew his support for the homeless shelter's relocation to the Trail's End Bar site on West Broadway. The Pov was set to close a purchase agreement on the property by July 1, but the initiative crumbled under criticism from nearby residents and the Lowell Elementary School PTA.
Across town, the University of Montana's hopes of installing a biomass boiler on campus appear to be defying Missoula's trend for now. The Montana Board of Regents green-lighted the project earlier this month, and the Missoula City-County Health Department approved UM's air quality permit on June 22. Yet, as with all Missoula-based initiatives that roll out the "it's a good thing" message, it's been disparaged by throngs of local citizens.
The Pov's relocation and UM's biomass boiler share much in common when it comes to public reception. Both appear to improve Missoula.
Yet both projects suffer for the same reason General Motors recalled select 2011 Chevrolet Cruzes in May: Not enough tinkering before the model hit the market. Engen put the brakes on the Pov project after neighbors as well as Lowell parents complained they weren't involved. Many expressed frustration at having found out about the relocation not from the Pov but from local media. UM's biomass proposal has been picked apart by residents who claim the boiler will increase pollutant emissions.
The Pov is stalled for now while UM's boiler is moving forward at full steam. But the controversies around both suggest Missoula still needs to walk—and talk—before it runs.