The pieces have been coming together for months, and by the looks of it 2015 will be good to Missoula. A wave of downtown development is gaining momentum, promising to inject new life into the city’s core.
Over the past few months, stories have slipped out one by one, detailing the projects. In case you missed them, here’s a summary of the work that’s gearing up to take place downtown in the months ahead. Construction cranes should return to the city’s skyline soon.
It’s been known for a while that Missoula College would grow from an empty lot on East Broadway. Earthwork has already begun and the $32 million building – designed by StudioForma in Bozeman – will be the first to land in the corridor.
While other projects have been rumored for that side of town, they remain only that - rumors. Yet the activity and interest prompted Mayor John Engen last week to say, “The East Broadway corridor will be unrecognizable a decade from now.” I’m guessing he knows something the rest of us don’t.
Last week, CTA Architects' Mike Tuss also released the renderings for the new Stockman Bank building planned for the corner of Orange Street and West Broadway.
The design doesn’t disappoint. The six-story building will stand prominently on a corner that greets visitors arriving into the city. Based on the renderings, the project will go far in giving the dated block an aesthetic boost while bringing roughly 60 new jobs to the city in coming years.
Like Missoula College, the new bank building will also strive for certification from Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. Tuss envisions rooftop vegetation, low-flow facilities and photo-voltaic panels that will help the bank generate some of its own electricity.
Several weeks ago, Farran Realty Partners and Lambros Developments also announced their intention to build a 500-bed student housing project on Front Street, just east of the Holiday Inn. The area is now a parking lot and is begging for redevelopment.
I’ve spent the past few weeks surfing the Web for other national projects that offer 500 beds, hoping to get an idea of what’s to come. By comparison, the Holiday Inn offers 200 rooms. The developers haven’t released any renderings, but they have placed the project at roughly $30 million.
Both the city and the University of Montana have sought such a project for years. When it opens in 2017, it’ll bring residents to the downtown district, and will place students in safe housing and within walking distance of the university. Hopefully, the project will include retail amenities on the ground floor.
Over on Toole Avenue, Zenith Holdings plans to renovate a one-story concrete warehouse into a three-story apartment building. Greg Nemoff, owner of Sirius Construction and a partner in Zenith Holdings, said the project will include 32 apartments on the second and third floors, and six ground-floor retail spaces.
Elsewhere downtown, Stephen Glenn and Dario Passalalpi of Reno, Nevada, still plan to begin work on the Missoula Mercantile this year. Across the Clark Fork River, Leslie Wetherbee – the representing agent and part owner in the Sawmill District – maintains that construction will begin soon on that property’s first building.
The four-story condo unit, dubbed Polley’s Square, will set the stage for future retail, residential and office space, turning the former industrial site into something of a town square.
Several other projects remain more of a mystery and come with high anticipation. Those in the know have said St. Patrick Hospital will raze the old Safeway store on West Broadway this year, making room for a new medical office building. The hospital has declined to comment on its plans for now.
Perhaps the most anticipated project in the downtown district belongs to the Farran Group and its plans to redevelop the Riverfront Triangle at Orange and Front streets.
The plan remains under wraps.
“We hope something comes up there soon,” Don Verrue, assistant director of the city’s Development Services, told me last week. “That hotel will really tie that corner in nicely once they get the new Stockman Bank up. That’ll become really attractive to the city when it all comes to pass.”
In late December, Farran senior managing director Jim McLeod said the firm’s plans for the property were embargoed by a nondisclosure agreement. However, he added, the embargo would expire early this year, at which point developers could share their vision for the property.
“It is moving forward,” McLeod told me. “We’re getting close, and once we get through that nondisclosure agreement, we can talk about the plans.”
The proposed project is expected to include a multi-story hotel and conference center. Future infill will likely include retail and residential space, officials have said.
Some have accused me of being impatient on such matters, telling me that multi-million-dollar projects take time. Perhaps they’re right, but I’d rather describe my perceived impatience as persistent curiosity.
Either way, I’m eager to see downtown Missoula grow in smart and efficient ways. It’s pleasing to see forward momentum arrive at last, and watch 21st century projects rise alongside the city’s 19th century façade.
From Missoula College to the east side of town to the Fox Hotel proposal on the west side, this may be the year Missoula takes a big step forward, and we’ll all benefit from the improvements. This is our century, and it’s beginning to take shape.