The acceleration of the national economy may find its way to Missoula next year, with tens of millions of dollars invested in several building projects that could turn 2015 into a banner year for local construction.

Over the past two years, Missoula has issued building permits carrying a combined construction value of $160 million. But members of the city’s Development Services believe next year’s activity could surpass that, and bring a number of construction jobs and large projects with it.

“In 2015, we expect to see the level of development activity accelerate,” said Mike Haynes, director of Development Services. “Some major projects already announced include Missoula College, the Stockman Bank building and the H&M store.”

The University of Montana plans to break ground on Missoula College early next year. Slated for East Broadway between MonTEC and the SilverTip Apartments, the four-story, $32 million project will set the stage for redevelopment on the east end of town.

The Stockman Bank building will also emerge as one of the larger projects scheduled for 2015. Demolition of the Salvation Army on the corner of West Broadway and Orange Street is set to begin in March, with construction of a seven-story building picking up shortly after.

Nearby, plans for the proposed Fox Hotel project continue to progress, though it’s unknown what 2015 holds for the anticipated development.

Jim McLeod, the senior managing director with the Farran Group – the firm behind the project – said the plans were still embargoed by a nondisclosure agreement that will likely expire early next year.

Once it does, McLeod said, developers will share their vision for the Riverfront Triangle at West Front and Orange streets, where the project is expected to take place. The work could reshape the western entry into downtown Missoula.

“It is moving forward,” said McLeod. “We’re getting close, and once we get through that nondisclosure agreement, we can talk about the plans.”

Along with Stockman Bank and the Fox project, plans underway at St. Patrick Hospital may further enhance downtown’s western corridor.

While the hospital didn’t return calls last week seeking comment, both the Missoula Economic Partnership and Development Services said St. Pat's plans to raze the old Safeway store on West Broadway and build a four-story medical office building.

“Other areas to watch in 2015 will be the Fox site, the Old Sawmill District and the Reserve Street and Russell Street corridors,” said Haynes. “It’s difficult to expand on proposed projects very much because some are still in negotiation, or are on the drawing board but haven’t been formally committed to or announced.”

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Across the Clark Fork River, the lots remain empty in the Old Sawmill District, but Leslie Wetherbee, the property’s representing agent and part owner, said 2015 will finally see a number of projects break ground.

The 46-acre site has undergone a dramatic transformation over the past few years, sparked in part by a $12 million investment by the city. Construction of the town square-style development could begin in March.

“Things are taking longer than we expected, but we should see construction begin in 2015,” said Wetherbee. “We’ve got quite a few things going on there.”

Wetherbee said Polleys Square, a four-story condo project slated for Wyoming Street, will likely be the first project to move forward in the new development. Another lot is currently under contract with a local brew pub, which also plans construction this spring.

Wetherbee said developers of the district have roughly $20 million held in escrow under the EB5 program – an immigration investment program established by Congress in 1990. The money should come free “any day,” she said, and when it does, it may prompt other projects to move forward, including student housing and executive-style apartments.

“We have quite a bit in escrow and we’re waiting for approval of applications,” Wetherbee said. “We’re seriously expecting to get word any day now. It’s just a matter of when they start moving forward with those proposals.”

Consumer Direct, a national company providing in-home care, also plans a $13 million office building in the North Reserve Street area as it consolidates its local offices. Two new national restaurants are also anticipated, according to one development insider.

Changes are also coming to Southgate Mall, though details haven’t been released. Southgate Mall Associates purchased the old Val-U Inn just south of the property and plans to raze the structure early next year.

“That hotel is going to be taken down,” said Julie Gardner, the mall’s representing agent with Lambros Real Estate ERA. “The opportunity came forward for them to buy it. They wanted to open up the line of sight to their property, and this gives them flexibility for the future.”

Work on Missoula’s new Fort Missoula Regional Park is expected to begin next year as well, along with additional improvements to Brooks Street.

The Holiday Village Shopping Center on Brooks is lined up for a face-lift, and the new Toole Crossing – an upscale apartment project planned for Toole Avenue – is expected to break ground in the spring.

Other projects are rumored, but couldn’t be confirmed ahead of the holiday break.

“There’s so much pent-up construction demand and it’s all just being released,” said James Grunke, executive director of Missoula Economic Partnership. “This next year will shape what Missoula looks like for the next five to 10 years. We’re at a critical point.”

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