The latest draft of the Missoula Downtown Master Plan presents a bold vision for the urban core of the city, with images of residential housing above many of the iconic buildings and plans for a large parking, retail and housing building in a corner of Caras Park.
Jason King, a consultant with Dover, Kohl & Partners, presented the draft on Wednesday night before a crowd at the Wilma. The audience had clickers and could vote on components of the plan, which received mostly broad support, although there was some skepticism and "no" votes. Those negative votes ranged from 4% to 10% on each proposal.
The plan is hundreds of pages and includes suggestions on everything from painting better bike lanes on the Hip Strip to building residential housing downtown to funding an electric street trolley.
Many things haven't changed from when a draft was presented to the community in January. The plan still calls for mixing people with cars by adding traffic-calming infrastructure, bike/pedestrian facilities and more street trees. It still calls for incorporating public art on blank walls and converting Front and Main streets from one-way streets to two-ways for safety and less confusion.
King's team counted every public parking space downtown for a week last winter and found that about 36% of spots are vacant on average. However, he said downtown could use a tall parking structure somewhere near the railroad tracks, and said it should include commercial space on the ground level, perhaps housing on top, and could serve as a mobility hub. That means it could house a bike-share headquarters and serve as a bus stop as well.
The entire block of land on East Main Street where the current Missoula Public Library sits was recently donated to the city by the Payne family. Construction is underway on a new library next door, and when the current library is demolished it will be vacant.
King envisioned a four- or five-story building for the site that could house nonprofits, offices and four or five retail/restaurant incubators. He said the back of the structure could have parking and the top of the structure could have 30 to 60 affordable housing units.
During a presentation in front of the City Council on Wednesday, council members expressed support for the idea.
“This is precisely what I have been dreaming and scheming in my own mind," said council member Heather Harp. "How do you get all those uses in one place and make it workable? To even have that vision is extraordinary. The only thing lacking is a café.”
Council member Heidi West said she would like to see a day care provider in the building, especially downtown, while Harp and Michelle Cares said they'd like to see a grocery story.
“The idea of having some service providers in this space seems like a good fit and having affordable housing seems like a dream," said council member Julie Merritt. "It is a blank canvas.”
King said the far west end of Caras Park is a waste of parking and suggested a multi-story structure with an open-air market on one level and housing on the others, along with parking. He also suggested a splash pad for the summer that could turn into an ice rink in the winter.
For the Hip Strip, King said the public comments his team has received show strong support for preserving the character of the neighborhood while enhancing it.
The plan will go through additional review and King, along with the Downtown Missoula Partnership, hope to adopt the plan by fall or winter of this year.
“Missoula is diverse from the opinion standpoint of ideas and values," said Bryan von Lossberg, City Council president. "There is a lot that we share and a wealth of ideas across the landscape. This is tough to navigate and I don’t think we’ll agree with everything in the plan. But I appreciate the breadth of the input the group working on this sought out, considered and debated.”