The nonprofit Roxy Theater on Missoula’s historic Hip Strip downtown is in the final stages of readying a patio called the Roxy Garden for outdoor movie showings.
On Wednesday, the Missoula City Council’s Land Use and Planning Committee heard a presentation on the Roxy's application for a tavern conditional use permit because the theater intends to serve beer and wine to customers. The permit would also apply to the Roxy Annex, which is a new indoor theater space just to the south of the existing theater at 730 S. Higgins Ave.
The permit will have to be approved by the full Missoula City Council on Monday night during a public hearing.
The Roxy Garden is behind the theater in the alley area but has been spruced up by workers over the last few months and now features nice concrete pavers. They'll have "plush" camp chairs set up for customers.
Mike Steinberg, the executive director of the Roxy, said he hopes to open the Garden in early August. The Roxy will have less seating spaced out for social distancing for now, but he thinks the Garden will be able to host 30 seats.
“It’s pretty groovy,” Steinberg said. “I love it. The mural that our graphics person, Ryan Hawk, did put the final touches on it. That’s a real perfect detail. There’s a great old vine drooping off it, so it’s very European.”
He estimates the Roxy is putting about $80,000 into building both the Annex and the Garden.
The seating will be set up similar to how the Roxy is showing movies at the Paddleheads Stadium this summer, with pods set up for groups of various sizes.
“So if you’re coming with a date you’ll pick a two-pod,” he explained. They hope to sell tickets in advance online so people can pick seats and avoid a line for tickets. Guests will be served the Roxy’s famous organic popcorn and beverages so they don’t have to go inside to the bar.
There were no public comments submitted on the project, and no member of the public spoke negatively of the project at Wednesday’s meeting.
Steinberg said the movies won't go super late, and the outdoor movies will be held in the early fall, spring and summer.
The Roxy was able to avoid having to build or obtain new parking spots because the city has provided incentives for reducing the required parking if businesses meet certain requirements. For example, the Roxy will be required to build more bike parking to encourage sustainable transportation. The Roxy is located near bus stops and bike lanes, which also allowed it to get parking requirement reductions.
"The decisions we’re making toward sustainability and mobile share are really impactful on projects of this magnitude,” said City Council member Julie Merritt. “Small little neighborhood projects like this are very welcome, especially when we know what the intended audience is and who’s going to show up and their choice of mode-split.”
Both Merritt and Council member Bryan von Lossberg thanked city planner Kaitlin McCafferty for her detailed explanation about why the city calculated that the Roxy didn’t need to add parking.
“I always thought that our zoning on the Hip Strip tends to over-park,” said Council member Jordan Hess. “The last thing we want is a whole bunch of parking in this vibrant part of our downtown."
There are apartments above the Roxy, and Steinberg said the building’s owners encouraged the development. He said there’ll be a “soft opening” screening for residents.
Council member Gwen Jones said she remembered the public outcry when the Caffe Dolce on Brooks Street was applying for a conditional use permit in a neighborhood. Now, she said, the attitudes of Missoulians have changed and this project appears to have no detractors.
“It sounds like everybody’s on board with this,” she said. “I’m excited about this project. It says a lot about the direction the Hip Strip is going. I remember the huge amount of hearings for Caffe Dolce. This kind of community gathering space is really Missoula’s future.”
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