As Bozeman Sees Rapid Growth, Neighborhood Works To Save History, Quirkiness

Jul 23, 2019

As Bozeman undergoes rapid growth and development, a neighborhood north of downtown is trying to preserve its history and quirkiness.

Suzanne Held and Amy Kelley Hoitsma ride their bikes past colorful homes, community gardens and the old Misco Mill, which now houses art studios and galleries.

Both women are board members of the Northeast Neighborhood Association (N.E.N.A.).

“The neighborhood, some would argue, was ignored for a long time because it was the less fancy end of town," says N.E.N.A. President Kelley Hoitsma. "It was the blue-collar, working-class part of town, the affordable part of town for a lot of people.”

Kelley Hoitsma says that affordability drew in artists and entrepreneurs who helped shape the neighborhood’s eclectic character. As Bozeman’s population grew, it also attracted developers.

“We had a historic brewery here, the Lehrkind Brewery, and a developer was going to build on that property but maintain the wall. When the 2008 crash came with the real estate market, they were unable to carry through with the project,” Kelley Hoitsma says.

The property owners tried to stabilize the wall, but an engineering firm said it was unsafe and too far gone to repair. The wall was torn down in 2014.

“Which was just a heartbreak for the neighborhood. We really tried to save it, and that’s the kind of thing people really came out of the woodwork to support,” Kelley Hoitsma says.

To prevent this from happening in the future, N.E.N.A. launched PhotoVoicesNE. The project asks residents to submit photos representing what they value in the neighborhood, along with written explanations. 

The board members will then condense the community input and submit it to the city this fall to create design guidelines for future development project applications. This could include how a building looks from the street, how much green space it has, bike lane requirements, etc.

Tanya Andreasen, the neighborhoods coordinator for the City of Bozeman, has been working with Held and Kelley Hoitsma on PhotoVoicesNE.

“We don’t just need to take e-mails and letters and public comment at a meeting anymore. We like that this is creative and artistic and representative of maybe a group of people that don’t normally contribute in formal public comment,” Andreasen says.

N.E.N.A. board members Held and Kelley Hoitsma are checking out the space at Tinworks warehouse, where PhotoVoices will be displayed next month. The building, which used to house a metal-working company, is slated for demolition this fall to make way for a new multi-use development. 

“So I have two different slide shows here ...”

Kelley Hoitsma pulls out her laptop to show some of the 50-plus photo submissions. 

“That’s a little guy who was asked what his favorite treasure in the neighborhood is and he immediately went to this little dug-out spot between a big tree and the Beall Park Recreation Center. That’s a little hiding spot for him,” says Kelley Hoitsma.

Some of the other photos show block parties, alley murals and Wild Crumb bakery.

“We hope with all these people, with their photos and their voices, that we can distill it down into the voice of the neighborhood and get at ‘what is our neighborhood character?’, and if we want to preserve it, we need to define it first," says Kelley Hoitsma.

Suzanne Held is leading the PhotoVoicesNE project. She says having an event where people live — not City Hall — makes it easier and less intimidating for more people to participate.

"It’s engaging people who might not have been engaged with city planning, with this type of thing before so it could also ignite interest in participation into the future,” says Held.

PhotoVoices will be on display August 9th and 10th at Tinworks Art, a temporary pop-up art installation in the northeast neighborhood. People will be able to add their own comments next to the photos.