Even as industrial and manufacturing activity picks up across Missoula, interest in the county’s airport development park hasn’t caught on, leaving the Missoula Development Authority asking why.
The board met last week to discuss the issue and what can be done to place the park on the radar of businesses looking to locate or expand in the city.
They agreed to consider listing the property in real estate guides, market the lots more aggressively online and review the county’s pricing.
The board also asked James Grunke, CEO and president of the Missoula Economic Partnership, to join them as an ex-officio member to help with long-range planning.
Grunke, who attended the meeting, agreed that interest in the county’s two tax increment financing districts in Bonner is hot, though interest in the airport development park is not.
“In relation to the three districts, by far the most activity is taking place at the old sawmill in Bonner, and now in the Bonner West Log Yard,” Grunke said. “But we’ve seen no interest in the development park for at least six months.”
In the last month, Bonner Transfer and Storage opened shop at the old Stimson Lumber Co. sawmill. A second company is expected to land in the Bonner West Log Yard this year, joining Harris Manufacturing on the property.
Grunke didn’t name the new company, but said it’s aiming for a September opening. In past meetings with the Missoula County commissioners, MEP has said that LGT Advanced Technology is looking to open a manufacturing site on the log yard.
Grunke said the two Bonner sites fit well with manufacturing and light industrial work. But the county is looking to attract technology-based businesses to the airport park.
So far, however, there’s been little interest.
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“I like the airport for some tech incubation, and I’m on the board with MonTEC and they’re full and looking to expand,” Grunke said. “We’ve thought about going out to the development park, but we don’t think our entrepreneurs want to go out there. They like the downtown feel.”
Despite the lack of interest, the county remains hopeful that new marketing strategies could spurn new activity in the park. Broadband service is in place, they noted, and more competitive pricing could help incentivize development.
“Tech is one of the major areas we certainly want to address in long-range planning, and our broadband is great out there,” said board chairman Chuck Keegan. “It’s the role we were hoping you (Grunke) would play in getting associated with us on long-range planning.”
Grunke expressed interest and told the board the local market is picking up. The city’s Development Services believes $190 million in commercial construction will take place in Missoula this year.
The known projects already include a new Stockman Bank downtown and Missoula College on East Broadway. A 500-bed student housing project is expected to move forward this summer, and Consumer Direct is planning a $26 million office building off North Reserve.
Grunke said other projects are waiting in the wings. He added that CTA Architects & Engineers believes Missoula could see $1 billion in commercial building over the next five to seven years.
At the MEP meeting last week, projects said to be in the near future include an expansion of Southgate Mall, a new office building at St. Patrick Hospital and development in the Old Sawmill District.
As for the airport park, the board plans to flesh out it its options at its next quarterly meeting, where it will review pricing and other incentives.
“All the technology is there, the broadband is in the park,” Grunke said. “It’s beautiful land ready to go to technology, but nobody’s ready to move on it yet.”