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conference center

A rendering of the proposed Riverfront Triangle conference center and hotel on the corner of Orange and Front streets. 

Plans for a 10-story hotel with luxury condominiums on the Riverfront Triangle were approved by Missoula City Council less than a week after being shown to city officials.

The agreements for the Fox Hotel, part of a multi-stage, multi-use development on the dejected Riverfront Triangle land directly west of the Orange and Front streets intersection, would give Missoula architects the first chance to design a riverfront project in almost 50 years.

“It’s an important responsibility and also we want the aesthetic to be right for the community,” CTA architect Jeff Crouch said.

The agreement detailed long-term plans for the hotel, conference center and parking garage, which involves a complicated land swap and ownership/management structure that Chris Behan, assistant director of the Missoula Redevelopment Agency, assured the council will be a boon to the city, at minimal risk.

Many years ago, the city came up with three scenarios for the Fox Site, Behan said.  

The first scenario foresaw a small development with little economic impact. The second planned for a midsize development, bringing in $8 million to $10 million in economic impact, albeit with some city assistance. The third, an even larger development bringing some $16 million to the city, would only happen with significant city leadership and financing.

The current plan, according to Behan, brings the benefits of the third scenario, with the city commitment of the second.

“The hotel will assume all financial risk. And that’s considerable,” he said. “This is so unusual.”

The agreement calls for a construction completion date of May 22, 2022, unless there are unavoidable delays.

After a break for lunch, the committee members offered their thoughts — all positive — on the project before the unanimous vote to enter into the agreement.

Ward 3 representative Gwen Jones recognized the project would be a “huge economic engine” to downtown, saying it was part of the council’s job to facilitate smart growth in the city.

“I feel like we are fulfilling our fiduciary commitments to our constituents,” Jones said. “We’re looking at a vacant lot right now.”

Ward 1 representative Bryan von Lossberg called it an “attractive project.”

“I’m convinced of the need for this,” he said.

Representatives from the Community Benefits Coalition continued to urge the council to facilitate and encourage a labor agreement, which spurred much debate during the last round of project approvals.

Emily Likins said most hotel housekeepers are not part-time workers or college students looking for some extra income, but rather full-time employees, often with children and dependents to care for.

It’s essential, with all of the city’s talk of bringing in high-paying jobs in other sectors, Likins said, for the council to also ensure high-paying jobs for service workers.

“I know that the folks sitting around here care for a lot more than just pre-function spaces,” Likins said.

The agreement passed with no additional conversation about the labor issue.

Dan Cederberg, a local attorney who sits on the Downtown Business Improvement District and Master Plan Implementation boards, encouraged the council to adopt the plan, saying it met all of the city’s criteria to develop the site and downtown.

“This is as good an anchor as we could ever hope for,” Cederberg said. “I hope this is the last time we have to look at this.”

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Arts and entertainment

arts reporter for the Missoulian.