The City of Missoula is moving forward on a project to improve public access, including a new custom 70-foot bridge, to a redeveloped island in the Clark Fork River.
On Thursday, the Missoula Redevelopment Agency’s board of commissioners unanimously approved spending $555,000 in Tax Increment Financing funding for construction of the bridge and other improvements to the West Broadway Island project.
The city-owned island is right below the California Street footbridge, near Imagine Nation Brewing and Western Cider. Chris Behan, the assistant director of the MRA, said the Missoula Police Department fully supports the project.
“When we talked to [police Chief Mike Brady], he said the police department is absolutely supporting this project,” Behan said. "For many years, the island has been an area where transients have camped. However, over the past three years there has been a dramatic increase of intravenous drug use and other criminal activity associated with campers on the island."
"There’s a real fear from people that are using this area.”
Behan said Brady told him the department is spending a large chunk of its budget patrolling the area. Both the MRA staff and the police department believe that by rehabbing an existing bridge to make it ADA-accessible and building a new pedestrian bridge, the island will become more inviting to the general public.
“The more people down there, it cleans stuff up to a great extent,” Behan explained.
The island lies within the Urban Renewal District II, and the money for the improvements comes from property tax revenue generated within the district. Behan said the MRA has been working on the project for five years, and they finally have enough funding to move forward. The island is managed by the city’s Conservation Lands department, and Morgan Valliant, the city’s conservation lands manager, has had crews out for the past few years clearing non-native species in an effort to increase visibility for island visitors.
“The Parks Department’s Conservation Lands crews have been trying to keep up with garbage being produced by campers and other inappropriate uses, but have been increasingly hampered by the need to pick up many needles left from illicit drug use and being accosted by very aggressive campers, even when accompanied by police officers,” Behan told the board.
The island lies within the floodplain and flooded in 2013 and 2018, but the new pedestrian bridge will be built so that it can be raised during the spring high waters. It will be built on city-owned land along West Broadway at the east end of the parking area near Imagine Nation Brewing. The existing Burton Street bridge will be equipped with hand railings and will be accessible to those using wheelchairs. A trail will be extended along the south bank of the irrigation canal between the two bridges.
“Most of the views, sounds and small wildlife in the area can be enjoyed on the trail or other areas can be explored,” Behan said.
The board also unanimously approved giving a $50,000 façade improvement program grant to the Trailhead River Sports, a new project on Garfield Street near Southgate Mall. Todd Frank, the owner of the downtown Trailhead outdoor gear store, is redeveloping an old warehouse and plans to build a huge raft, canoe and kayak showroom and rental area at 2505 Garfield.
The site lies within Urban Renewal District III, and Behan told the board the project will generate new property taxes of between $4,000 and $7,000 annually, create between four and six full-time seasonal jobs and potentially spur nearby commercial development.
“This will be the first retail outlet along that section of Garfield Street,” Behan told the board. “The potential for retail and other businesses developing nearby vacant lots, large parking areas, and underutilized businesses lots and storage areas along the street seems to have been largely ignored to date. This project will be very active and the envisioned exterior improvements should help validate the viability of smaller retail business use in the neighborhood.”
Frank will use the money mainly to build giant windows in the warehouse to allow people to see inside the store.
“Three windows will really make a difference from the street appeal to show what we do,” he said. “We think it’s a beautiful building inside, but it’s pretty tough from the exterior, and this will make a huge difference.”
The board also approved giving Frank a $100,000 interest-free, 10-year loan for the façade improvements.