Property near the old Fox Theater site at Orange and Front streets has emerged as a possible location for Missoula College.

On Tuesday, Mayor John Engen confirmed that he asked the University of Montana to consider locating its new campus alongside a potential development between West Broadway and the riverfront.

A development group is considering building the Hotel Fox and a conference facility there, and Engen said he pitched the site to UM president Royce Engstrom as an excellent place for the college – and a less costly site to build on.

“What I asked Royce to do is give it serious consideration and kick the tires, and I know he’ll do that, and I know that he’s got a lot of other things to consider that the mayor does not,” said Engen, who stressed the idea is very preliminary. “But I see a great downtown revitalization project. I see a great community project.”

Engstrom’s first consideration is selecting a site that is in the best interest of education, said Peggy Kuhr, vice president of integrated communications for UM.

She said he will first consider the college’s students and future students. He does not have a timeline to make a decision, but would like to move as quickly as possible after conversations with college faculty and the student body.

“President Engstrom has promised that he will think carefully about it. And that is where it stands right now,” Kuhr said.

She said UM will announce a public forum when the president has more details.

This year, the Montana Legislature allocated $29 million for a new Missoula College, formerly the College of Technology. The South Campus is under consideration as a location for the school, as is property on East Broadway. Fort Missoula has been mentioned as an option in the past.

Engen said he tried to stay out of the mix at first, when he assumed UM was committed to building on the South Campus. After UM announced it would consider a new location – on East Broadway – the mayor thought it made sense to broach another idea.

“It began to occur to me there might be an opportunity for a pretty remarkable partnership between the city and the university to build Missoula College in what I consider a great place,” Engen said.

***

For one thing, Missoula College educates students in the health professions, and putting the campus a stone’s throw from St. Patrick Hospital complements those programs, Engen said. St. Pat’s also owns some of the land in the mix south of West Broadway.

Secondly, the culinary arts program and Hotel Fox’s food service and conference center could benefit from being located adjacent to each other, he said.

“Barring the industrial arts,” he said, he sees “a very modern, urban” college would fit on the site in its entirety, and other synergies exist with business and technical professions.

“It just seems like there are so many ways this might make some sense,” Engen said. “It’s out of the box for the university for a variety of reasons, and I get that. And I’ve been reluctant to weigh in. (But) this strikes me as really smart, and I still think we could do student housing out at the Broadway site.”

Additionally, he said he believes it would save money because the city could help reduce the costs of building the school through partnerships, such as with the Missoula Redevelopment Agency and the Missoula Parking Commission. Rough, preliminary estimates show the entire college could be built at the Fox site for $200 a square foot, compared to $300 a square foot on the South Campus, he said.

The mayor also said the plan would appease advocates who want to preserve the golf course at the South Campus, and it could raise the profile of the student body at Missoula College. The current campus is near the fairgrounds at the end of Stephens Avenue.

“One of the things I suggested to Royce was if Missoula College students today feel a little bit like second-class citizens, this location on the river in downtown Missoula would have them feeling like first-class citizens real fast,” Engen said.

***

The city of Missoula owns the 1.87 riverfront acres at Orange and Front streets, and the Hotel Fox group has a reservation on the property through Jan. 10, 2014. Earlier this year, the mayor requested the group widen the scope of its plan to include a much larger conference facility and footprint, and he said he believes the group is “enthusiastic” about the idea of including Missoula College.

“Part of this is about making that site a showcase for Missoula for a very long time,” Engen said. “And I threw a wrench in the works with the conference center, but what I was hearing out in the community was there was a need.”

In other words, instead of having one more smaller meeting facility – that competes with other hotels in Missoula – the project could be large enough to attract conferences that Missoula couldn’t otherwise accommodate. Said Engen: “It grows the pie rather than slices it.”

Working on the Hotel Fox project are the Flathead Valley’s Averill family, who operate the Lodge at Whitefish Lake and Flathead Lake Lodge; their friend Dieter Huckestein, former president of hotel operations for Hilton Hotels Corp.; and the Farran Group of Missoula.

The Farran Group’s Patrick Corrick said adding Missoula College is a possibility, but ideas for the site are still conceptual, and he does not want to make any promises to the community that the group can’t keep.

“We tend not to try and predict until we’re a little further down the path,” Corrick said. “We don’t feel it’s good policy to talk about projects before they’re real. We’re still engaged in conversations and looking at alternatives.”

The Missoula Redevelopment Agency has requested the group present a plan before the end of the year if possible, and Corrick said he “wouldn’t say no to that.”

At this point, Engen said rudimentary estimates show the land could accommodate Missoula College at 150,000 square feet; a conference center at 50,000 square feet; office buildings at 50,000 square feet; a hotel with 200 rooms; and other uses, such as retail and possibly medical offices. He said he preferred the idea was “a little more baked” before becoming public, but it’s not a secret, and it’s an interesting concept to put on the table.

“I just don’t want people to get too agitated about it,” Engen said. “It may not work for the university, and if it doesn’t, I get it. But you know, it’s an idea I think that’s worth considering.”

Reach Keila Szpaller at @keilaszpaller, at keila.szpaller@missoulian.com or at (406) 523-5262.

Reporter for the Missoulian

(23) comments

Larry Lewis
Larry Lewis

Engen loves the street diet. Unfortunately it's the only diet he will give credence to. Subway anyone?

Nikki's Niece
Nikki's Niece

All of this commotion over the future site of Missoula College because one day two years ago one individual made a hasty decision and declared the UM golf course to be the most ideal site for the college, and went on to proclaim this decision a “done deal.” Now, in the continuing of saga of “John comes to the rescue of Royce,” the mayor has offered a helping hand to Mr. Beleaguered Done Deal, who continues to refuse to leave a dark corner of Main Hall to listen and debate the benefits and shortcomings of each proposed site for Missoula College. Although selecting the right site is an important decision, the most basic issue in all of this is the failure of leadership at UM, which is reflected in the deep insecurities and fears of one individual who does not have the confidence to defend his positions.

johnny Dollar
johnny Dollar

What evidence does the mayor have that any firm would have a conference in Missoula? Why would they come here......instead of Flathead Lake or Coure d' Alene?

Pie in the sky.......there are no firms that would come here.....to far from everything and no business here.

MTSierra
MTSierra

Get that terrorist's picture off of your profile! The Missoulian should be ashamed for allowing this to happen!

Objective observer
Objective observer

Missoula is larger than either Couer d'Alene or Kalispell, we have a major airport and a major university and Missoula hosts conferences all the time. If you hate Missoula so much, maybe you should leave.

sportscaster
sportscaster

The idea sounds "cool" but doesn't pass the realistic test. I'm really surprised Mayor Engen even suggested it. Parking would be a nightmare, and traffic to and from the location would be much more difficult than either the South Campus or East Broadway sites. Certainly traffic to the old Fox site would be helped if the mayor and his cohorts would widen West Broadway back to four lanes, where it should be. Fat chance! That would make too much sense. My vote still goes to the golf course site. - Bill Schwanke

MT_Mama
MT_Mama

"...this location on the river in downtown Missoula would have them feeling like first-class citizens real fast,” Engen said.

Because, y'know, nothing makes you feel first-class quite like being near the Orange Street bridge and the river in that spot, which is full of transients, druggies, and garbage.

Lamplighter
Lamplighter

Rereading Engen's comment about Missoula College students "feeling like second-class citizens," it is clear they are the parroted words of Royce Engstrom. Who else other than Hizzonor himself would be stupid enough to make such a dumb statement...PS: The Fox site is a postage stamp compared to the size of any of the other candidates, but you can appreciate the city's efforts to try and make lemonade out of the Orange Street lemon -- and where else could they find a better sucker than RE?

Noir
Noir

This is a great idea. Very progressive and forward thinking. This has been done in several larger cities, and I think it's a win-win here for both Missoula, the university, and the hotel builders. Great use of that location and great improvement over current use. Let's get it going!

Waltzing Matilda
Waltzing Matilda

One of the first things that the new Missoula College should do is create a new curriculum in critical thinking and all University of Montana and City of Missoula administrators should be required to attend those classes because it is clear that none of them have any ability in that area right now.

UM projects that Missoula College will soon have 2,500 students and UM data shows that 70% of Missoula College students drive their vehicle to school because they also work a full time job. There is not adequate parking downtown or on East Broadway or at the Golf Course and the Mountain Campus does not have adequate parking for the current UM students, faculty and staff. Where would another 1,500 to 2,000 vehicles park if Missoula College is built downtown or at either the golf course or on East Broadway?

The most logical place to build the new Missoula College is on the West Campus near Fort Missoula. UM owns a 50+ acre parcel there. Like the downtown location, the Fort location is close to a medical facility (Community Medical Center) and there are already plans drawn up for a campus at the Fort. The Missoula College Industrial Technology program currently sits on 13 of those acres with the remaining 37+ acres being bare fields. With the current plan keeping the Industrial Technology program at the Fort and the Culinary Arts program near Sentinel High School, if the new college is built downtown or on East Broadway or at the golf course, the result will be three separate Missoula College campuses and that makes absolutely NO sense when the entire Missoula College could be located on one campus near the Fort where there is adequate room for parking, services and future expansion.

Fighting 4 Missoula
Fighting 4 Missoula

As usual Waltzing Matilda you offer sanity where there is desperate of some. Sane, rational, critical thinking is lacking in our city government - at ALL levels.

mountaincycle
mountaincycle

Another great place for transients to hang out

compounder
compounder

Remember that "Leadership is Nature's way of removing idiots from the productive flow"...

Bbr
Bbr

Maybe the city should consider swapping City Hall buildings downtown with Missoula college locations. Then the mayor and City Council can learn some humility from being 2nd class citizens while saving the golf course and money. Who knows with a little humility maybe our council and government will get some common sense. I really hope our next mayor does not think of those who work and live south of Hellgate High School as 2nd class citizens.

truelimegreen
truelimegreen

I agree with the others here. The acreage is not adequate for the college.

Question - Why would building the college at the Fort location make college students feel like second class citizens which could be implied by Engen's remarks?

The Fort still seems the best location for the college. Missoulians do NOT want it built on the golf course. The infrastructure is also not adequate at the Broadway location.

I would like to know - besides the fact that the University wants to profit from the Missoula College enrollment - what some of the other reasons for Engstrom refusing to consider what was once considered the best location in a previous study - The Fort Missoula property.

SeenClearly
SeenClearly

Fort Missoula is an undesirable location because it would unnecessarily spread resources and force students to commute across town. The infrastructure at the in-town locations is already present… use it … save money. We do not need to induce more suburban sprawl. Imagine how quick the bad idea South Ave bridge over the Bitterroot River would get built if there was a campus at the Fort!

dave ajou
dave ajou

I'm not sure from looking at the map, that the current tech campus off of South Ave is in the city limits. If it isn't, that might explain a lot.

MTminded
MTminded

State universities across the country are affiliated with hospitals. The old Fox Theater location's proximity to St. Patrick's Hospital could make this proposal the beginning of a wonderful relationship. If the clinics' facilities can eventually relocate to the old Safeway site there would be even more room for U of M classrooms and a whole curriculum of medical practices could be developed. Mayor Engen understand how Missoula and the U of M grew together over a century ago and shows insight by inviting that growth to continue.

Larry Lewis
Larry Lewis

Is this more pap from Mayor McCheese?? How can you have a college campus on 1.87 acres, plus other amenities? What about parking? Oh, yeah now I remember. All the students will be required to bike, walk, sashay, pogo stick, bus, shuffle, skip or teleport to school. This town is messed up. Shut down the streets so everyone will be required to not use their cars. When people are healthy they cost less to the entire public. Has the Mayor looked in the mirror lately. Methinks It's been awhile since he wore out the ol' shoe leather.

MTNimrod
MTNimrod

Engen is for it? Reason enough to be VERY suspicious. I doubt the man goes to the bathroom without an ulterior motive.

jabo
jabo

Missoula college downtown, can you imagine the traffic? Engen might have to do another street diet to solve the problem.

SeenClearly
SeenClearly

"can you imagine the traffiic…" --- Can you imagine getting out of the car and biking, walking or taking a bus?!… All three of which are major assets of our downtown infrastructure. Streets are for people, not just for people in cars.

libertarian
libertarian

Election year hype? We have plenty of conference centers including space at the University.

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