Stockman Bank Brooks Street

A new three-story Stockman Bank building is slated for construction on Brooks Street in Missoula next year, and plans for a brand-new public park not far away are moving steadily along.

On Thursday, the Missoula Redevelopment Agency’s Board of Commissioners approved reimbursing Stockman Bank up to $454,941 in Tax Increment Financing (TIF) assistance to help with portions of the $15 million project that will benefit the public, including improvement of public utilities, economic stimulus and the elimination of blight. The building would be 48,900 square feet with 90 parking spots, and a portion of the property would be left open for the development of a future project.

The property is at 3601 and 3611 Brooks St., within Urban Renewal District III, where the old Cine 3 movie theater and Aaron’s Rental Center were located. The TIF assistance will be paid for by the new property taxes generated by the development. Currently, the site generates about $56,455 per year in property taxes and the new bank is expected to generate about $277,660 per year more in property taxes, so the TIF assistance represents about 2.8 percent of the total project cost.

Stockman Bank expects the project to create approximately 50 jobs within five years, and MRA development coordinator and project manager Annette Marchesseault believes the project meets urban renewal goals by removing a vacant building that had become a public nuisance.

“The proposed sidewalks, street trees and pedestrian-scale lighting will make the area more pedestrian friendly, in keeping with the city’s vision for midtown,” she said.

The bank expects to begin construction in spring 2018 and complete the project in 2019.

The only apparent hangup in the whole plan is a new policy by the Montana Department of Transportation that discourages amenities such as sidewalks, landscaping, trees and lighting within MDT right-of-way, due to liability and maintenance issues. So, $121,001 of the TIF assistance will be contingent on getting a permit from MDT for those improvements.

Stockman Bank is nearing completion of a larger, five-story building in downtown Missoula.

“Our goal is to increase our presence in Midtown,” said Stockman Bank Missoula market president Bob Burns. “We think it will be a good addition to that corridor.”

The developer will be required to comply with the state’s prevailing wage law for all TIF-funded work, which means that contractors have to pay a set rate, including benefits, and at least 50 percent of employees for each contractor must be Montana residents.

The MRA Board also approved using up to $30,000 in TIF funds from the Urban Renewal District 3 to haul topsoil for a new park called Montana Rail Link Park, or MRL Park for short. The park will be on a 12-acre parcel north of Southgate Mall bounded by Johnson Street on the west, the Bitterroot Branch rail line on the east and North and South avenues on the north and south. The land was purchased for $2 million from MRL, which the MRA says was significantly below market price.

The park will be on 4.5 acres of the property, and will include a multi-use playing surface, a half basketball court, a pavilion, a community garden, a lawn for field sports, a volleyball court, an off-leash dog park and perhaps other amenities.

The TIF money will be used to haul 3,500 cubic yards of excess topsoil from Fort Missoula Regional Park. According to Marchesseault, the MRA believes that if it wasn't getting such a good deal from Fort Missoula Regional Park, the cost to haul that much topsoil from another source would be at least $100,000. The high-quality soil needs to be moved by the end of this year, which is why FMRP is donating it for just the cost of hauling.

The total cost of the park project is $1.5 million, and when it is completed it will finish off the last unfinished portion of the bike path that stretches from East Missoula all the way to Hamilton in the Bitterroot Valley.

Missoula Parks and Recreation director Donna Gaukler said she and her staff have synthesized public input into a single park master plan that incorporates concept designs that came out of work sessions.

“The neighborhood is so excited, and MRL is so excited to make a Bitterroot connection,” she said.

Gaukler added that the neighborhood surrounding the property is low- and moderate-income, so the park will increase park acreage per capita and boost connectivity.

“It looks like it will be a community park that all of Missoula will be proud of,” said MRA board member Melanie Brock. “There’s something for everyone.”

There are currently office buildings, a church and a shop located on the portions of the property that won’t be a park, and the city eventually hopes to turn that portion into some sort of mixed-use development with housing.

“That’s the long-term vision,” said MRA executive director Ellen Buchanan. “As we talk housing around the city of Missoula, this becomes a real opportunity to demonstrate how you employ that policy so it’s pretty exciting. I don’t want to rush it, but I’d like to put our money where our mouth is with respect to housing.”

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