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Ronan makes plans

Five-year strategic, downtown master plans to create roadmap for growth

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RONAN — The Ronan Revitalization committee met with representatives from KLJ Engineering on May 21 to review draft reports of a Downtown Master Plan and 5-year Economic Development Strategic Plan.

Ronan Revitalization is a subcommittee of the Ronan Area Chamber of Commerce with representation from the City of Ronan and Mission West Community Development Partners tasked with the revitalization of downtown Ronan.

At the end of 2022, Montana’s Main Street Program chose Ronan as the recipient of a $50,000 grant to develop a Downtown Master Plan. Mission West Community Development Partners then leveraged those dollars to gain an additional $50,000 to be used for the development of a 5-year Economic Development Strategic Plan. 

“This $100,000 grant to develop a downtown master plan is a result of the partnership between the chamber, the city and Mission West,” said Ronan Revitalization Chair Whitney Liegakos. “It really took all three of our organizations to make this happen.”

Those funds were then used to hire KLJ last summer to develop a master plan that will serve as a roadmap for the future of downtown Ronan. Public input gathered from citizens, businesses and CSKT tribal representatives through surveys, as well as meetings and pop-up events in October 2023, has been incorporated into the draft plans. 

Survey highlights shared during the meeting included the top five words people used to describe their vision for Ronan which are: clean, community, friendly, family and welcoming. Other survey highlights include quality of life, ranked at 82% for the greatest asset of the Ronan community, followed by agriculture at 57%. Downtown revitalization was listed as the biggest community need at 69% followed by more entertainment options, housing options and retaining/expanding local businesses, each averaging 41% response. Tourism, agriculture, retail and service industry were seen as businesses with the most growth potential. Preferences for new businesses were Main Street retail/service at 70%, restaurants/bars/coffee at 66%, entertainment at 61% and value added ag at 43%. Workforce challenges, population/location, startup capital and lack of community support were seen as the main obstacles to new business.

Some of the citizen comments shared include the following:

“Bring businesses back to Main Street. Fix the roads and any sidewalks in disrepair.”

“A well-lit, welcoming downtown with maintained streets and sidewalks.”

“I would love for Ronan to be the go-to downtown with robust downtown businesses that serve as a gathering place for the community.”

“Improved public splash pad at park.”

“I would like to see a safe, growing community. Improving downtown shops/stores.”

The proposed 5-year Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy focuses on the following five key areas with specific goals assigned to each: 

Workforce/resident retention and community development

Growth in agriculture and food production

Community collaborations and access to financial resources

Tourism and supporting the visitor economy

Transportation and community infrastructure

An action workbook plan to track timelines for completion and progress of the goals associated with each of the five key areas above was also outlined.

The Downtown Master Plan focuses on landscape and streetscape improvements with specific recommendations to enhance tourism and economic development. Recommendations include the development of public spaces for events and public art, and the inclusion of sustainable features such as bike lanes/parking, street stormwater planters and public’s water refill stations for reusable bottles. Specific recommendations for economic development include façade improvements, design guidelines, encouraging outdoor dining (on sidewalks) and load zones.

The top five projects on a prioritized list of recommended improvements for the Downtown Master Plan includes: crosswalk infrastructure, improved intersection traffic control, parklets, public parking and new sidewalk and improvement/widening of existing sidewalks.

KLJ representatives at the May 21 meeting emphasized that the plans they presented are adaptable and can be altered in any way stakeholders see fit. The draft plans were further shared with Ronan residents at the Ronan Co-op Brewery later in the afternoon to gain additional public feedback.

“I feel the like day went really well,” Liegakos said. “The brewery event was hopping. We probably connected with about 50 people.” Seeing such a large gathering of people excited and wanting to participate, looking at conceptual designs and talking about downtown was really inspiring she added.

Katie Jo Elliott, Ronan Area Chamber of Commerce president, was also encouraged by the “stellar” community engagement at the brewery.

Some of the public comments from the event left on post-it notes suggested making the city more bike friendly and green, less concrete and more green areas with drought tolerant plants, improved sidewalks, more public parking and changing the angle of parking to accommodate trucks.

Liegakos said the goals and priorities identified from survey feedback like improved roads, sidewalks, trees, safety and events are all things community members have been talking about for a while. Having those shared priorities formally documented, “solidifies what we want to see happen,” she said. “Hopefully with this document in hand we can make some tangible progress on those goals.”

“It’s a step in the process, gathering public input,” said City of Ronan Public Works Director Dan Miller. “The more input the better. Hopefully the result of this will be some improvements to the downtown area via grants. The property owners downtown will have a lot of say in what ultimately gets done.”

The draft plan can be viewed and commented on at: or by scanning the QR code in the story. 

“I want to encourage people to go to the website to review the plans and give their input,” Elliott said. “Everyone should have their voices heard.”

Public commenting on the draft plans closes in June. KLJ will then provide a final version of the reports with the additional public feedback by the end of June. Liegakos is hopeful the plans will be adopted by Ronan City Council in July.

“Those two plans qualify cities for larger grants and help guide us on our decisions like prioritizing and identifying funding sources,” Liegakos said. “It can feel a little piecemeal otherwise – this gives it a clear direction.” 

“Even when we get the final plan,” she added, “None of it is written in stone. It just provides options and shows that the town can collaborate on a project. Ronan is such a great town to live in. We have so much growth potential.”

Liegakos noted that anyone who wants to become involved in Ronan revitalization efforts would be welcome and should call her at 406-833-0570.

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