The Missoula County Board of Commissioners met Wednesday and approved reimbursing a private development company up to $600,000 to aid in the relocation of a Coca-Cola bottling plant from central Missoula to near the airport.
The tax increment financing assistance will go toward building public right-of-way improvements, including constructing a new road, on an undeveloped 18-acre piece of land in the Missoula Development Park on Expressway Boulevard near the airport. The Coca-Cola Bottling Co. High Country plant is currently located on South Third Street West in Missoula.
The commissioners also discussed applying for a federal grant to fund a portion of the proposed Missoula County Airport Landside Infrastructure Project. The roughly $30 million deal includes building new roads, bridges and other infrastructure in an effort to attract businesses, create thousands of jobs and reduce commute times.
The TIF funding, which is paid for by increased property taxes generated by new development, will go to a private development and investment company called Double Haul, LLC. The firm has a buy/sell agreement with the current Canadian owners on the 18-acre piece of land west of Big Sky Brewing Co. on Expressway. The company is planning to build a 69,500-square-foot warehouse and distribution facility, which it will then lease to Coca-Cola Bottling Co. High Country, a North Dakota company that operates the Missoula bottling plant. The total project cost, including land acquisition, will be around $9 million. The Coca-Cola bottling plant expects to relocate 25 jobs at the new facility and to create 11 new jobs. There also would be roughly 25 temporary construction jobs created by the development.
Right now, the county receives $10,386 annually in property tax revenue from the bare land. After the new facility is built, the Montana Department of Revenue estimates the project will generate up to $168,000 per year more in taxes. Mark Kobos of Double Haul, LLC, said it's anticipated the county will recoup the TIF reimbursement in less than five years.
It appears that the Coca-Cola bottling plant, which is located in central Missoula in an area that includes a lot of residential neighborhoods, would close down once the facility relocates.
“There will be an additional property tax revenue generated by the redevelopment of the property occupied by the initial project owner’s vacated property, which is located in the City of Missoula,” Kobos wrote in his application for TIF funding. “This redevelopment could also generate new incremental property tax revenue for Missoula County, depending on the ultimate master plan and construction of the redevelopment.”
Kobos, a vice president at Jackson Contractor Group in Missoula, also informed the commission that they have another prospective project for the same piece of land, which would be a new 10,000-square-foot facility to house new manufacturing. The remaining portions of the land would be used for “light industrial uses.” The total cost for that project would be about $2.5 million.
Dori Brownlow, the county’s development director, said she and officials at the Missoula Economic Partnership constantly get calls from out-of-town businesses wanting to relocate here, but the lack of developed industrial land turns many away. So, she said, it’s important for the road to get built even if there is no guarantee that the second proposed business materializes.
“Companies that want to move don’t want to wait even six months for a new street to be put in,” she said.
County commissioner Jean Curtiss said Missoula isn’t on the map for so-called “site selectors,” those business people and consultants in large cities like Seattle and Portland who help corporations choose new relocation spots.
“We won’t be on their lists until we have spaces ready,” she said. “This is it. If you’ve got the land and infrastructure in, somebody like Double Haul and Jackson Contractor or any other construction firm can put a building up pretty fast. We don’t have it. So this is the piece. ... The county has been talking about how do we get some of these things up and running and I think this gives us that opportunity.”
The commissioners also discussed another major project that would install infrastructure to attract businesses near the airport. The Missoula County Airport Landside Infrastructure Project would leverage a TIGER (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery) grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation of perhaps $20 million to $25 million, more than $2 million in TIF assistance and $7.5 million in local private funding. It would be used to build roads, bridges, roundabouts and traffic lights between West Broadway and Mullan Road near the airport. Ostensibly, the project would then allow the airport to lease currently underutilized land to commercial tenants and generate more tax revenue for the county.
Jeremy Keene, a principal engineer with WGM Group in Missoula, said the project is part of a long-term plan the county has developed to build out the Wye-to-Mullan grid road network.
“The county passed a resolution in 2002 for kind of a transportation plan in that area,” he said. “They’ve been working on that as development is occurring. England Boulevard and George Elmer Boulevard are part of that. The TIGER grant would accelerate the build-out of the road network.”
Keene said the project would have a lot of traffic and transportation benefits for the Mullan Road area, such as reducing congestion and wait times that waste gas, because it would create a connection over to West Broadway so people could access the airport easier.
“The airport also has designated that area in their long-term plan as an area for commercial development,” Keene said. “So this is two long-range plans coming together, the airport plan and the Wye/Mullan plan.”
Part of the project would extend George Elmer Boulevard from Mullan all the way to West Broadway, and extend England Boulevard from Reserve to development areas south of the airport.
Keene said Missoula County is experiencing a high level of interest in new businesses looking to locate in Missoula because of the exceptional quality of life and access to outdoor recreation. The primary impediment is a lack of available land for industrial development. This project would help alleviate that, he said.
“There’s a lot of interested businesses, and the Missoula Development Park is completely built out, so there’s nothing build-ready that’s 100,000 square feet right now,” he said. “And it’s got to be shovel-ready. If these businesses cannot move very quickly into construction, they’re moving on to the next site.”
The project would also enhance the bicycle and pedestrian network in the area, as well as restore the Grant Creek floodplain and riparian areas. The commissioners are meeting at 2 p.m. Thursday to finalize the grant application.