Big things are happening in Missoula's West Broadway corridor.
A public groundbreaking gathering will be held on Monday, June 10, to celebrate the construction of Missoula’s first Opportunity Zone-financed project, a $5.8 million office and restaurant building at 1900 W. Broadway.
The three-story, 24,000-square-foot space is being built as the new headquarters for DJ&A, a growing engineering, planning and surveying firm founded in Missoula in 1973. There will also be space for a restaurant and a leased office space in the project.
Opportunity Zones were created by the 2017 federal tax bill, and investors can realize capital gains tax benefits if they invest money in projects inside the zones. There are about two dozen such zones in “economically distressed” census tracts in Montana, but the one encompassing Missoula’s Northside and Westside neighborhoods is the only one in Missoula County.
The project is also located within Urban Renewal District II, and earlier this year the Missoula Redevelopment Agency (MRA) approved using $301,431 in Tax Increment Financing (TIF) for public right-of-way improvements to the site, including new curbs, gutters, sidewalks, lighting and street trees along Maple Street. The building will have 57 new parking spaces to accommodate the planned restaurant, but developers haven’t said if they’ve secured a restaurant tenant yet.
City officials and DJ&A executives hope that this first Opportunity Zone project will spur more economic development in the area.
“We are so thankful for the support of MRA and the City on this project and are excited by the vision we share for continued healthy economic growth and development in Missoula,” said DJ&A president Christopher Anderson. “DJ&A and our employees are proud to be pioneers in this effort by developing our new headquarters in Missoula’s Opportunity Zone and hope that many others will follow suit.”
The company is collaborating with the city’s Public Works Department to bring gravity sewer to the area, which could ease barriers to development. The new building will allow DJ&A to hire more staff beyond their current 55 workers and expand their operations in Missoula, according to Anderson.
The new building is expected to generate almost $82,000 per year in new property taxes compared to what the vacant lot is generating now. That money will not go to the city’s general fund, but will instead go back into Urban Renewal District II to pay back the TIF assistance.
City and county officials believe that because the Urban Renewal District overlaps with the Opportunity Zone around the West Broadway Corridor, there’s a big opening for the slow-growing area to see much more investment.
At a meeting between Missoula County commissioners and the Missoula Economic Partnership on Wednesday, that very topic came up.
“Is there a way we can align incentives that exist, like the MRA’s URD for example, where it overlaps with Opportunity Zones combined with funding with New Market Tax Credits?” asked Grant Kier, the executive director of the MEP. “Could we layer all development incentives to further articulated goals like affordable housing or commercial and mixed-use space or a center for day care? Those are some of the things that have come to the top of the list.”
Part of the MEP’s mission is to market Missoula’s opportunity to national investors, Kier explained.
“Could we come up with a portfolio project at the national level?” he wondered aloud.
Kier said Missoula is “ahead of other communities” in Montana in terms of Opportunity Zone development, and he was referring to DJ&A’s new project. There will be a statewide conference to discuss Opportunity Zones in Bozeman on July 11, he added.
Eran Pehan, the director of the city's Housing and Community Development Office, told the city council last year that the goal is to “layer” the Opportunity Funds investments with other financing tools like low-income housing tracts to produce additional living space for low-income residents.
Missoula Redevelopment Agency director Ellen Buchanan and Missoula Mayor John Engen have both expressed hope that having both the Urban Renewal District II and the Opportunity Zone overlap will provide the city with a tool to attract investment.
“It’s gratifying to see a local company make bold, bright investments in their future and the future of Missoula,” Engen said in a statement on Thursday. “Our community’s planning, programs and public investment help give confidence to companies like DJ&A, who are investing in redeveloping the West Broadway corridor and, in doing so, creating jobs and opportunities and prosperity in our community.”
The groundbreaking ceremony will be held on the southeast corner of 1900 W. Broadway at 11:30 a.m. and the public is invited and encouraged to attend. There will be refreshments and speakers.