A sea of asphalt is a beautiful thing – if you’re doing doughnuts in a parking lot.
Kraig Erickson has had fun driving doughnuts, but as the developer for the Woodbury Corp., he is pleased to be working with the Missoula Redevelopment Agency to put in some green landscaping at the South Crossing shopping center, site of the new Boot Barn and Cabela’s. He said the partnership with the MRA means funds for infrastructure as well as success and longevity for the project.
“It will be a staple in the Missoula community and a driver for better things to come in Midtown Missoula,” Erickson said.
The leasing agent for Woodbury made his remarks Tuesday before some 345 people attending the Missoula Area Chamber of Commerce’s State of Missoula Commerce Report. At the event, the chamber also unveiled its new tag line, “engaging business and community,” and emcee Nick Kaufman demonstrated the tag line in action.
Kaufman called United Way of Missoula County CEO Susan Hay Patrick to the lectern to hand her a contribution. She took the envelope, and Kaufman pointed out her seat in the DoubleTree Hotel ballroom to other business leaders – should they want to deliver donations of their own.
“That’s one way business and community can work together,” said Kaufman, vice president of WGM Group.
On Tuesday, redevelopment was the theme of the four presentations (see related story), and Erickson gave a developer’s perspective of bringing the South Crossing to fruition.
The Missoula Redevelopment Agency administers the urban renewal districts in the city, and Erickson said the $565,000 of financial assistance the MRA board approved is key to the project and possibly even the new building.
“Without the MRA’s assistance, we most likely would have fought against paying for the traffic signal,” Erickson said of the Dore Lane and Brooks Street intersection.
The area is in an urban renewal district. In those districts, tax revenue above and beyond the original amount gets pumped back into the district for a limited amount of time to boost development – and to grow the permanent tax revenue once the district sunsets.
Ellen Buchanan, director of the MRA, said when Missoula’s first district ended in 2005, the city and county both saw an additional $450,000 to $500,000 in revenue, and the schools took in more than $700,000 a year. That area included downtown.
“So that’s the power of tax increment financing,” said Buchanan, who kicked off the presentations.
Since then, Caras Park has attracted hundreds of thousands of visitors every year, and some of those people didn’t spend time in downtown Missoula in the 1980s, Buchanan said. In more recent years, the redevelopment tool kept the First Interstate Bank building downtown, and it helped build the Front Street parking garage.
“We think the future is bright for that Front Street district,” Buchanan said.
An estimated 90 percent of the MRA’s work has been on smaller projects with local developers, she said. On Eaton Street, for instance, the city invested in sidewalks, and local developer Collin Bangs built six new townhomes, in part because of the city’s investment in infrastructure.
In more recent years, the focus on infrastructure has meant more than only water and sewer, she said. These days, planning for telecommunications is just as important, and the MRA planned for broadband when it built Wyoming Street, a recent project.
On the front burner, the MRA is finishing Silver Park in the Old Sawmill District, which Buchanan said “may be the largest redevelopment project in the state.” It’s some 45 acres and home of the former Champion sawmill.
Also simmering is the Riverfront Triangle district, where a hotel and conference center are proposed, she said. “We think in the next four or five months, you’ll see some pretty exciting news about how that property might be redeveloped.”
At the event, the room was packed, and Ross Mollenhauer saw many people taking notes during the presentations. Mollenhauer, an engineer with Morrison-Maierle and graduate of the chamber’s Leadership Missoula program, said the city is small enough an event like the luncheon brings together a large contingent of the community.
“I think it’s a great chance to network and see everybody again,” Mollenhauer said.
The main draw for the crowd this year was redevelopment, said Kim Latrielle, president and CEO of the chamber.
Many people in the business community want to know more about projects on the horizon and the forces driving development, and people here and in other cities see Missoula’s potential, she said. It’s the culmination of Missoula’s natural beauty, its opportunities for families, and the expertise in technical and biological research.
“I think it’s Missoula’s time, and we have a lot of people leaning forward on it now,” Latrielle said.