$150M downtown project moving forward

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By Martin Kidston

Activity in the Riverfront Triangle could pick up early next year as plans to redevelop the 7-acre downtown parcel move forward, several team members said this week.

The project, which includes a hotel and conference center, housing, retail and office space, will effectively extend the downtown district further west. Valued at roughly $150 million, the work is expected to take several years to complete.

“We want to actually start construction at some point in 2017,” said project manager Barry Fisher. “There’s a lot of traction being gathered with the project, so the build-out could be fairly quick. It could happen within four to six years.”

Fisher, who has built hotels across the country, was hired by Hotel Fox Partners in 2015 to help complete the project’s complicated due diligence. Over the past year, team members have worked with several city and state agencies to resolve everything from downtown zoning to parking and traffic.

As envisioned, the project will include a 200-room hotel and a 25,000-square-foot conference center with two levels of underground parking. To the north, the development will offer additional parking and large-scale retail amenities.

“We’re looking at two major retail anchors there, such as a Trader Joe’s or a Whole Foods, something along those lines,” said Fisher. “This is a great project.”

To the west of the hotel, plans call for a mixed-use residential complex, including affordable housing and high-end condos. Fisher didn’t say how many units were being considered, though a medical office building would anchor the project off West Broadway, just across the street from Providence St. Patrick Hospital.

A portion of Front Street would be vacated and used as a pedestrian mall.

“The establishment of this area, which is about 7 acres, is to create an environment where people can live, work and entertain with restaurants and mom-and-pop type retail,” said Fisher. “We’re extending the downtown area into this and trying to make a bookend to the west side of the city of the Missoula.”

Ryan Salisbury with WGM Group said the project’s infrastructure needs have taken time to resolve, including utilities and water mains. A portion of West Broadway would be widened to add a designated turn lane, helping resolve traffic flows.

All told, Salisbury said, the project will include between 800 and 1,000 parking spaces.

“We’re looking to attract more people downtown to continue the vibrancy people enjoy today,” he said. “There’s an opportunity for a new entrance downtown. There’s significant growth opportunities for businesses with a medical office building and other office space, as well as residential options.”

The city granted Hotel Fox Partners exclusive rights to develop the downtown property in 2011. The plan has grown over time to include a 200-room hotel and a larger conference center capable of drawing regional events.

Estimates suggest that the development could infuse the city with $32 million annually in new visitor spending. Along with several other proposed projects, it’s expected to bolster the downtown economy.

“Your downtown has to be growing and expanding and revitalizing itself to stay alive,” Salisbury said. “Downtowns can die. We’ve seen that in other cities in Montana.”

The downtown property, vacant now for many years, once represented a complicated blend of owners and zoning overlays. The developers have since negotiated a purchase agreement with St. Pat’s and purchased the commercial property at the corner of Orange Street and Broadway.

Over the past year, the city also has worked with the developers to rezone the area to simplify future phases of the project. Initially, the developers had proposed a multi-year build-out, though they now believe it will be condensed to a handful of years.

It also fits with the downtown master plan by expanding the district, introducing residential housing, encouraging downtown employment, and creating new cultural and civic activities, Salisbury said.fox4

“You’ve got to have all the pieces fit together with residential units, smaller retail, the medical office and regular office,” he said. “One doesn’t work without the other. The hotel doesn’t work without the convention center, and on and on.”

Fisher said a pedestrian bridge linking the Riverfront Triangle with McCormick Park remains part of the project, as does an extension of the Riverfront Trail. The project will also enhance the public’s use of the Clark Fork River.

Fisher said the development agreement is currently in process and could be completed next month. Street and alley vacations will begin next month. Demolition, final design and the relocation of utilities are expected to start early next year.

Getting the project this far, Fisher said, has required a team effort.

“They’ve helped us figure out what it would take to bring a master plan campus like this into the city, what it would take for the infrastructure and all the utilities, and how to incorporate that into the project,” he said. “We have really worked hard at trying to unfold what I think is a great opportunity for Missoula.”

Contact reporter Martin Kidston at info@missoulacurrent.com