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Kevin Grover saws a beam Friday afternoon outside a 58-unit apartment complex being built on Russell Street, just one of a number of building projects going up in Missoula signaling a strengthening economic recovery.

KURT WILSON/Missoulian

When Prudential dropped its plans to build an office building off Russell Street, Drake Lemm bought the property and went to work constructing a 58-unit apartment building.

Lemm toured the ongoing project on Friday, pointing out the amenities he plans for each unit – walk-in closets, full-sized vanities and decks out the back door.

“The population of Missoula still increases 1.5 percent a year,” said Lemm. “The population is increasing, and the number of people who can qualify for single-family homes has dropped significantly.”

Since June, the city has approved more than $25 million in building permits, with $12 million of that going to multi-family housing. The permits also include a $1.5 million sales and services building for Lithia Motors on Brooks Street and a $1.7 million Lifestyle Fitness Center on Russell.

The permits’ combined valuation, which represent an uptick in commercial building and multi-family housing this summer, don’t yet include Cabela’s Outpost and Kohl’s headed for the south end of Brooks Street, on Kmart’s former site.

Many of the projects now under construction were permitted prior to June, but together, they hint of a strengthening economic recovery.

“There’s some very good momentum right now,” said Mike Haynes, Development Services director for the city of Missoula. “I think we’re pretty busy, and there’s definitely some discussions taking place about other things.”

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Clad in his hard hat, Lemm estimated his own project at $3.5 million. Located at 1721 Russell, the project will add 35 one-bedroom units, 15 studios and eight two-bedroom apartments to the city’s housing stock.

Just a few blocks north on Russell, the Farran Group is developing its own $19.5 million housing project, adding 224 apartment units to the market, along with eventual retail stores.

Each unit includes 32 apartments and carries a value of around $1.3 million. Since June, the city has issued 15 permits to the job, with a combined valuation of $12 million.

Building throughout the Russell Street corridor and Missoula’s midtown section continues to plow forward, and the work isn’t reserved to apartment buildings.

Crews last week razed the Tire-Rama shop on Stephens Avenue, clearing the way for a 9,000-square-foot office building near the renovated Elbow Room.

One block east, the owners of Hunting GPS Maps added 6,000 square feet and a second story to their building off Brooks Street. The property then appraised for $900,000.

“The interest rates were perfect — we hit it right at the bottom,” said Rob Hart, co-owner of the growing business. “We locked in a lower rate for materials before prices began to increase.”

Hart said Missoula’s midtown district remains attractive to a business like his, and interest in the area is on the rise.

While his company considered moving to another location before the remodel, it opted against it. Hart cited the area’s traffic volume and the district’s promising future, including a hopeful renovation of the Holiday Village shopping center across the street.

“The pace of business drove our decision more than anything,” Hart said. “We outgrew our space quickly. We’re at 22 employees now and we needed to find a better space. We’ve got enough room now for 40 people.”

From the north side to the south side, east to west, crews are pushing other Missoula properties toward development.

The Poverello Center looks to build a new $5 million facility on West Broadway, while the city last week gave approval to a four-story building at Pattee and Main streets — including a new tavern.

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Three permits were issued for Silver Park, including $279,000 for a new pavilion. Out on Brooks Street, the old Kmart building is gone, and the Woodbury Group is ready to redevelop the site.

That project, estimated at $24.5 million, will include a 42,000-square-foot Cabela’s Outpost and a 55,000-square-foot Kohl’s Department Store. The firm also plans to renovate the former Montana Homefitters shop and add thee outparcel buildings along Brooks Street.

“We’re currently reviewing plans for the new Cabela’s to be constructed on the former Kmart site.” Haynes said. “We expect to be reviewing plans for the adjacent Kohl’s building later this year. At this point, we have only issued a demolition permit for the former Kmart building.”

Other projects considered for development include the Fox Hotel and conference center on Orange and Front streets, though that project could be years off if it comes together. The University of Montana also is exploring East Broadway as a possible site for its $32 million Missoula College.

The university is expected to break ground on multiple campus projects this year, including a $9.3 million Gilkey Center for Executive Education and Entrepreneurship.

Future work in the city itself is harder to predict, Haynes said.

“You never know until a plan is submitted how real any project is,” he said. “As far as potential projects go, there are some encouraging signs.”

Reporter Martin Kidston can be reached at 523-5260, or at martin.kidston@missoulian.com.

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