History of Downtown and the Helena Business Improvement District

The discovery of gold in Prickly Pear Canyon in 1864 by four men looking for their last chance for a find before heading home, marked the start of Helena and Downtown Helena. Situated on Last Chance Gulch at the base of Mount Helena, Downtown quickly grew from a tent camp and miners’ cabins to a thriving business, retail, fine dining, arts and entertainment district. 100 years later, a group of downtown merchants gathered to create Downtown Helena Incorporated to work with downtown businesses to attract visitors, shoppers, and customers to the over 500 businesses located Downtown.

The upheaval of the 60’s and 70’s lead to a nation-wide movement called urban renewal where communities worked to eliminate the old and create the new; In Helena, urban renewal contributed to the shaping of what Downtown Helena is today with the creation of the State’s only walking mall.  Encompassing two blocks with a mix of architectural styles and unique businesses, the walking mall provides a pedestrian friendly park-like setting for downtown visitors and businesses to enjoy.

Downtown property owners and merchants created the Helena Downtown Business Improvement District in the late 1980’s as a way to work together for the betterment of downtown. The organization was a state filed nonprofit. By 1993, as urban renewal was closing, downtown property owners approached the City to tax themselves to create a pool of funds to help with revitalization efforts.  The Helena Business Improvement District was created to enhance the physical environment of the greater downtown area to improve the value of properties in the area. The BID has worked to maintain a thriving downtown and works closely with Downtown Helena Inc. to market and promote Downtown Helena.

HBID is a quasi-governmental agency created by State statute through resolution of the City of Helena. After its initial creation, the BID has been renewed in 2000 and 2010; it is up for renewal in 2020.

Today, you can still trace our history in downtown: envision the early mining days at Reeder’s Alley, wonder along Last Chance Gulch to admire the late 19th century architecture and visit the many local merchants, eateries, and establishments that provide the charm of downtown, and progress to the modern era by ending in the Great Northern Town Center where contemporary Helena merges with historic Helena. Known as the most historic mile in Montana, experience Downtown Helena’s colorful history and exciting future.

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