A team of investors unveiled plans to redevelop a seven-acre parcel in downtown Missoula on Wednesday, an ambitious vision that represents one of the largest urban infill projects in state history.
To bring the project to fruition, Hotel Fox Partners asked the Missoula City Council’s Committee of the Whole to extend their exclusive rights to the property for an additional 18 months.
Doing so will give the partners time to close on a land purchase with St. Patrick Hospital, finalize architectural designs and finance the project’s key pieces, including a branded hotel and conference center.
“For 31 years, we’ve been holding onto this site,” Chris Behan, executive director of the Missoula Redevelopment Agency, told the committee. “I can tell you, no one has gotten this far. They’ve gone through the process very methodically. They need a little more time to keep going.”
Members of the City Council agreed and granted Hotel Fox the extension to finalize the project, which carries a value of $150 million. Developers expect to close on a land transfer with the hospital next year and begin construction in 2017.
“This is a unique and historic time to get this project done,” said Pat Corrick, principal partner with Hotel Fox. “The real estate capital markets right now are really favorable. Interest rates are low and there’s a lot of capital available on the equity side and the debt side, and that doesn’t always happen.”
Corrick said construction costs also remain reasonable, and economic reports have found demand for the project.
As it’s currently proposed, the development could generate up to $32 million in new sales for community businesses, according to figures presented Wednesday.
“We’ve assembled a team that has the ability to execute on this project,” Corrick said. “If you look at it as $150 million build-out, that’s a big number. It’s not going to get built in one phase. This is multiple phases over a number of years.”
As envisioned, the project will take eight years to complete and cover three city blocks. The mixed-use development will create a western gateway to downtown Missoula and greet visitors arriving in the city off the Orange Street interchange.
Initial site plans unveiled Wednesday call for a 175-room branded hotel. The hotel will sit atop a 35,000-square-foot Missoula Conference Center on the corner of Orange and Front streets.
Two restaurants with views of the river are included in the design, as well as a 60-room boutique hotel. A pedestrian bridge will span the Clark Fork River, linking the site with the city’s other major redevelopment project taking place at the Old Sawmill District.
“We’re focusing a lot on the river itself,” said Jeff Crouch, senior project manager with CTA Architects. “We’ve put as much of the development as we can in a position to experience this river that we have.”
Crouch said the initial site design also calls for 200 market-rate housing units and 50 private condominiums. The units would be based in several multistory buildings on the west end of the project.
“We’re talking about a highly dense, highly urban experience of living,” said Crouch. “This is also the most private part of the site. Most of the units would have riverfront access and riverfront views.”
The portion of the project fronting West Broadway will include 50,000 square feet of purpose-built office space – space some are already branding as a medical office complex, as St. Patrick Hospital sits just across the street.
Also on Broadway, plans call for 35,000 square feet of retail space, including a 25,000-square-foot retail anchor. The project’s 800 parking spaces would mostly sit underground, with the exception of one parking structure.
“It’s an absolute that these pieces and parts will be evolving over the next year or so, as will the architectural style,” Crouch said. “We’re in the middle of a process that will be changing.”
The city granted Hotel Fox Partners exclusive rights to develop the property back in 2011. They initially planned to build a hotel with a modest conference center on 1.8 acres of city-owned land.
But in 2012, Mayor John Engen asked the developers to explore the possibility of a larger project. Hotel Fox hired Convention, Sports and Leisure International to study the economic impacts of placing a larger center in downtown Missoula.
Bill Krueger of CSL said the extensive study found that a 30,000-square-foot conference facility was feasible and could succeed in Missoula. A center of that size could generate $16 million in new economic output for the city and its businesses.
“We’re not counting local spending,” Krueger said. “We’re counting non-local spending to come up with our numbers. We don’t want to create redundant space and simply shift around existing business. We want to grow the pot.”
Consultants looked at local and regional competition, and found a niche in a 30,000-square-foot facility with abundant breakout meeting space.
Krueger said the study also found that the downtown location ranked above the national average in walkability. A survey found interest among organizers willing to hold an event in Missoula, and it found greater than average potential for Missoula to reach untapped markets.
Krueger added that the success of the larger master plan is essential for the conference center’s success, and vice versa.
“Any one of those pieces don’t have the same feasibility calculus in and of themselves,” Krueger said. “They’re each combined to create a greater sum of parts.”
What role the city will be asked to play in supporting the conference center will be fleshed out in the months ahead. While the private sector picks up the costs of building the center, the city could be asked to cover any shortfalls during the center’s early years of operation.
Patrick Barkey, director of the Bureau of Business and Economic Research at the University of Montana, said the planned redevelopment of the Riverfront Triangle – with all its components intact – could serve as a game changer for the Missoula economy.
Constructing the development alone would create 487 jobs, with several hundred permanent jobs added when the work is complete.
“The rest of the economy will react to this,” Barkey said. “This is a big event. It’s going to pull people into the community, both for the jobs and the lifestyle and the residential options. This would be a significant economic event for the Missoula economy.”