By Martin Kidston/Missoula Current
After years of brainstorming and months of work, the final study for the Brooks Street corridor has been turned over to the city, outlining the design guidelines and zoning recommendations needed to achieve the community’s vision for the Midtown district.
Prepared by New Mobility West and the Progressive Urban Management Association, the “Brooks Street Corridor Final Report” could transform Missoula’s commercial corridor into something of an urban hub built around new housing and services, walkable neighborhoods and public transit.
“There’s a diverse committee that’s been meeting for a year or two to work on ideas for the Brooks corridor,” said Ellen Buchanan, executive director of the Missoula Redevelopment Agency. “One of the motivations is that Mountain Line’s plan for its next phase calls for Bolt! service on Brooks itself. So how do you encourage development on Brooks that encourages frequent and fixed route transit?”
The district, which encompass much of south Missoula, is home to 16,000 people and 7,500 households, the study suggests. Roughly 2,000 businesses occupy the area, employing 17,000 workers.
But the plan acknowledges what city leaders have been saying for years. The district is underdeveloped and remains dominated by an auto-oriented design. It’s also chopped up by “mega blocks,” such as Southgate Mall and the Missoula County Fairgrounds, that hinder connectivity.
Coupled with a host of other impediments detailed in the study, the challenges continue to discourage interest among residential developers, even though opportunities are present for new projects.
But the 72-page plan aims to change that by suggesting tweaks to city regulations that could enhance the district’s overall development potential. That includes encouraging vertical construction with ground-floor retail, and maximizing efficient infill.
“It’ll become something of a guiding document in terms of what type of development is considered in that corridor,” Buchanan said. “It has the potential to guide MRA on how to make tax-increment financing decisions, and it should guide Development Services on what kind of regulatory changes are needed to support development out there.”
Laval Means, planning services manager with Development Services, said the city is looking through the recommendations as well. She believes the plan will serve as a guiding document for a number of entities, given the collaborative process that went into developing it.
“It’s going to be a useful guide to the Missoula Midtown Association, the Missoula Transit Authority, MRA and for us,” Means said. “Just from the land-use recommendations, there are ways it can help inform the work we hope to do in the future on design standards and guidelines.”
The City Council adopted basic design standards in December 2015, though the rules were limited in scope and applied to commercial properties smaller than 30,000 square feet. In June, the council directed Development Services to begin working on wider standards to guide the character of new buildings, something the new plan for Brooks Street supports.
According to the report’s regulatory recommendations, stakeholders felt the city should encourage vertical mixed use projects along the corridor, with residential living built above ground-floor retail. Projects should also be oriented toward the city’s growing trail network, and they should contribute to new “activity” areas, or places where people can gather.
“We’ll take some of the ideas from the Brooks Street report and take closer looks at certain intersections and activity areas,” said Means. “We want to drill down on that and look at what’s really possible, and create an additional vision for some of those places.”
Means said Development Services will present the plan in detail to the City Council’s Land Use and Planning Committee in February.
“The plan has strong transit and transportation components,” said Means. “We’re going to need some funding to make some of the transit pieces work, but the plan will help inform the idea of going after some grants to do that.”
Efforts to redevelop Southgate Mall and externalize the retail and dining opportunities is already underway. The mall has launched the first phase of the project with the construction of a new movie theater and a new connector street on Mary Avenue.
Buchanan said future plans call for additional connections, including the extension of Johnson Street through a portion of the mall. Additional retail and housing development is also planned, the later eyed for vacant property behind Bob Wards.
The city, along with Southgate Mall Associates, believes the project and its future phases will incentivize investment, helping the Brooks Street plan move closer to fruition.
“Its’ a huge catalyst,” said Buchanan. “You’ll see more investment in housing. We already have people looking to invest in that area.”
Contact reporter Martin Kidston at firstname.lastname@example.org