Two large new commercial projects in Missoula's Midtown area got the green light from a city agency on Thursday.
The owner of The Trail Head, an outdoor specialty gear store in downtown Missoula, is planning on purchasing a warehouse near Southgate Mall and transforming it into one of the largest non-motorized boating and water recreation stores in the Northwest.
Currently a nondescript concrete block structure with few windows, the former Sears Warehouse at 2505 Garfield St. will be remodeled with nearly roof-to-ceiling windows, and the interior will be converted into a showroom for sales, rentals, boat storage and repair services.
Todd Frank, who has owned the business since 2000, has requested approval from the Missoula Redevelopment Agency to proceed on plans to start work soon in order to be ready for the boating season.
Frank was out of town on Thursday, but the MRA's board of commissioners voted unanimously to approve a request to proceed with work on certain project items without precluding those items from being included in future Tax Increment Financing or Facade Improvement Program funds.
Chris Behan, the assistant director of the MRA, said Frank told him the boating portion of The Trail Head's business has outgrown its location on Front Street.
"As that area is growing and parking is at more and more of a premium, the Trail Head has found not only the need to enlarge the boat department but also troubles with access," Behan said. "They do a big business in canoes and rafts in particular."
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Behan said that given the overall extent of remodel plans, the request from Frank in the future for the Facade Improvement Program (FIP) will be at the limit of $50,000. The warehouse lies within Urban Renewal District III, and is eligible for reimbursement for things that benefit the public and enhance the neighborhood.
The board also unanimously approved up to $50,000 in Facade Improvement Program grant assistance for a new Dram Shop near Southgate Mall. Zach and Sarah Millar are planning on remodeling the old Dan's Soup and San building and opening up a beer, wine and cider taproom by next spring. They already own a popular location downtown on Front Street, and are planning to expand to take advantage of the revitalization of the mall area. In recent years, a Lucky's Market grocery store, an AMC dine-in movie theater and other retail stores have opened in the area following the construction of the Mary Avenue connector road through the mall property.
"There's a lot going on there with Lucky's and the movie theater and especially with Mary Avenue crossing the train tracks," Zach Millar told the board on Thursday. "We feel like this is a really good spot for us."
The FIP funds will allow the Millars to create a much more inviting outdoor patio space, including trellises and a canopy made from recycled boat sails from Flathead Lake. The FIP funds would also purchase new LED light fixtures that are energy efficient, glare-free and meet the city's Dark Skies Ordinance. Native non-invasive, drought-tolerant and pollinator-friendly plants will be installed.
MRA executive director Ellen Buchanan said the project will eliminate blight, create 10 new jobs, add new tax revenue to city coffers and perhaps attract spin-off businesses.
"This project presents MRA with the opportunity to assist a locally owned small business to expand to a second location with improvements that are more in keeping with their customer base," she said. "It also further contributes to the investment being made at and around the Southgate Mall, spurred in large part by the construction of Mary Avenue between Brooks and Reserve Streets."