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An island for Missoula

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It's mostly transients and homeless folk who use the weedy five-acre parcel called the "West Broadway Island" in the Clark Fork River near the California Street Pedestrian Bridge. But after the Missoula City Council unanimously agreed to pay $25,000 to purchase the land from Ke-Do-Ma Investments, on Monday, Oct. 3, the property is now slated for a facelift. The city aims to transform the island west of downtown into a destination for frolicking, fishing and tuber take-out.

"Our goal would be to start the improvements next spring," says Missoula Redevelopment Agency Assistant Director Chris Behan.

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The city has had its eye on the property for more than a decade. Behan says its plans call for removing noxious weeds to encourage riparian plant growth and increase visibility. An old construction bridge at the end of Burton Street runs north-south on the island's west side. The city wants to erect a second bridge on the east side to create a loop and link the island directly to West Broadway. Those improvements will expand recreational opportunities and better ensure safety, Behan says. "You try to design things so there are fewer places to hide; and ways that people can escape from danger, if it happens to be there."

While discussing acquisition of the property during a committee meeting last week, some council members asked if paying roughly $5,000 an acre to secure new recreational lands is prudent. The money comes from the city's tax increment financing pot, which is used to help spruce up blighted areas.

Behan says that the project is smart not only from a recreational perspective, but also as a long-term investment.

"People said you shouldn't be developing Caras Park when MRA did that," he explains. "But the community loves it. The community uses it as Town Square. Plus, there's been dozens of millions of dollars invested in buildings on Front Street and near the park, because they wanted to be near the park."

Behan says Missoula's emphasis on reinvigorating the Riverfront Corridor—by building Caras, new trails and water features such as Brennan's Wave and the planned Max Wave—helps make the community a great place to live. "It's something you wouldn't find in hardly any [other] place in the country."

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