Within the next 15 months, downtown Missoula is likely to expand to the west as construction begins on the Riverfront Triangle and at St. Patrick Hospital – projects valued at nearly $300 million combined.

While the hospital has yet to reveal its intentions, developers behind the Hotel Fox project on Orange and Front streets said their plans for a branded hotel and conference center, along with housing, office and retail, continue to move forward.

“We intend to start the conference center and hotel, assuming everything comes together with the site assessment and financing, in the first or second quarter of 2017,” said Pat Corrick, a managing partner with Farran Realty Partners.

During the past few years, the project slated for the Riverfront Triangle has grown beyond a simple vision for a sliver of property owned by the city.

The city granted Hotel Fox Partners exclusive rights to develop the 1.8-acre parcel in 2011. The developers have since purchased a larger parcel from the hospital and expect to close on the deal early next year.

In a presentation to the City Council last week, the project team detailed its efforts to address traffic, parking and utility work across the site. The project’s design also has evolved, though it remains far from final.

“At the time we first presented this in June, we had two hotels on the site – a 175-room branded hotel and a 60-room boutique hotel,” said Jeff Crouch with CTA Architects. “We’re now looking at a single 210-room branded hotel.”

The project maintains up to 250 units of mixed-level housing, though the balance of apartments and condominiums has yet to be determined. It also offers roughly 50,000 square feet of office space geared toward a single tenant.

“My clients aren’t planning to build 50,000 to 60,000 square feet of office space and having it sit empty and hanging a ‘for-rent’ sign on it,” Crouch said. “We’ve been doing some schematic design with a potential tenant that would occupy a larger portion of this 50,000 square feet.”

Crouch said developers are working to attract tenants and custom build the space to suit their needs. While standard office space is abundant in downtown Missoula, he said, Class A office space is hard to find.

Along with housing and offices, the development also envisions one large retailer with smaller stores mixed in. The larger store would follow an urban model found in larger cities while the smaller stores would reflect the district’s current style, Crouch said.

“We’re very keyed in on continuing the fabric so you don’t feel like you’re leaving the downtown and going to a different area,” he said. “This wants to feel like a continuation of the fabric of the downtown community.”

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Crouch said the project’s overall design will remain a work in progress. In the meantime, he said, architects and engineers have been working with the city and the Montana Department of Transportation to address other outstanding issues.

Parking stands high among them. Crouch said the project envisions a density not currently found in downtown Missoula.

“The real task for our entire team has been to address the reasons not to move forward with this project, from a developer’s perspective,” Crouch said. “I’m happy to report there have been none of those things that have been deal killers.”

The area’s zoning overlay is broken into parcels, reflecting the property’s past blend of owners. With the site now under single ownership, the developers and the city are working to change the zoning.

Doing so, Crouch said, will save time and money down the road as other phases of the project move forward.

“We’re talking about cleaning that language up now with Development Services so when it comes time to deliver different phases of the project, we don’t have to apply for multiple zoning variances,” said Crouch. “We’re starting that process next week.”

Crouch said the project will require more parking than what city code requires. The team has brought on a parking consultant to help with the design.

It’s likely the project would include two levels of underground parking, Crouch said.

“Every number I’ve seen has been a requirement of the uses of the land, not a requirement of the zoning,” Crouch said. “No matter what model we apply to this, we’re going to need more parking than zoning will require.”

Crouch placed the number of required spots at more than 800, though the exact number remains in flux. The potential for overlapping use is high when the residential needs are added to a fully occupied hotel and a booked conference center.

“This project, along with what Providence St. Patrick (Hospital) is ready to embark on, which is a very sizeable project, we’re talking about $300 million in development in a three-block radius in the next seven years,” Crouch said. “It’s a ripe time to have that (parking) conversation.”

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Missoula City Council members Jordan Hess and Alex Taft urged developers to think outside the box when it comes to parking.

Taft noted recent housing projects in Seattle that didn’t include parking. Hess suggested developers could employ methods to reduce car ownership among residents in the development.

He also suggested shared parking spaces.

“I’d encourage you to be as aggressive as possible with that, and turn over every stone with car share and that sort of thing,” Hess said. “With all our improvements to transit and the proximity of the trail system, it could be a really nice location for a number of folks to have car-free living.”

The design team is also working to address other engineering challenges. Ryan Salisbury, a civil engineer with WGM Group, said underground utilities remain an issue.

“When you’re dealing with existing sites, it’s not the same as a greenfield project,” he said. “You have a lot of constraints to work around."

During the past six months, WGM Group has met with city leaders, the Missoula Fire Department and the Montana Department of Transportation to address the challenges at a detailed level.

The engineering challenge presented what Salisbury described as a significant but not insurmountable hurdle.

“We’ve made great progress with the city and we see some challenges, but no deal killers at this time,” he said. “Looking at all these details at this level helps estimate what the costs are going to be.”

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