Helena city leaders are planning to install hand sanitizer dispensers and other sanitation facilities downtown, to help address concerns about the coronavirus.
On Monday, during a Helena City Commission meeting, interim City Manager Melinda Reed identified 11 locations around the downtown area where they will immediately work to place sanitizer dispensers, using city funding. The city’s Transportation Systems Department will contract to have them installed on poles on the streets – particularly along Last Chance Gulch, but also on Fuller, Park and Sixth Avenues and on Jackson Street.
The commission also approved a plan to use $10,000 from the Downtown Urban Renewal District’s tax increment financing, or TIF, funds to pay for additional dispensers. Community development director Sharon Haugen said, with that additional money, they expect be able to install about 50 dispensers.
Some of the added dispensers will be on the streets, but Haugen said they will also be working with downtown businesses to provide them with dispensers. The businesses will be responsible for maintaining them.
“It’s a good little private partnership to kind of make sure that downtown stays safe and that people who are using the restaurants downtown or going into the retail businesses can feel a little safer,” said Haugen. “It’s a great service for the city to provide.”
Haugen said city leaders are confident it’s safe for people to return to Downtown Helena, but that they hope this step will make more people feel comfortable coming back.
Commissioners asked whether the sanitizing stations would be close to downtown parking kiosks, so that drivers could use them when paying for parking. Transportation Systems Department director David Knoepke said they tried to place the first group of dispensers near kiosks when possible, but they had to spread them throughout downtown.
The Downtown Urban Renewal District was established in 2018. Tax increment financing, or TIF, sets aside some of the tax revenue collected there for redevelopment projects.
Haugen said TIF money can be used for projects to improve public health and safety. She said they are looking at using some of that money for other possible projects in response to COVID-19’s impact on the downtown. One possible idea is creating an outdoor performance space with room for social distancing, intended for organizations like Grandstreet Theatre that may not be able to use their usual facilities. Haugen said they are also considering a marketing campaign to educate people about the efforts that have already been made against the virus.
“The TIF advisory group wanted to address some of the concerns that have been created through this COVID emergency, and to make sure that people are aware that the city and the businesses are doing everything they can to make people feel safe,” she said.