A growing drumbeat of city officials and others are urging the University of Montana to consider placing Missoula College downtown at the old Fox Theater site, citing a unique opportunity to build something special.
UM President Royce Engstrom said Thursday night the school is considering just two sites for the $32 million college, including the South Campus and East Broadway. He said the downtown site and Fort Missoula were off the table.
But City Councilwoman Marilyn Marler, along with ASUM Transportation director Nancy Wilson, who also is a state legislator, asked Engstrom to reconsider the downtown site.
“We generally regard the location of Missoula College to be UM’s business,” Marler said. “But when UM began to consider alternatives to the long-contested site on the South Campus, we decided to weigh in publicly.”
Marler read a letter she wrote with Mayor John Engen, who first proposed the downtown site several weeks ago. She said the city is eyeing East Broadway for student housing, and would like to keep that option open.
“Putting the college downtown does not detract from the university neighborhood near the South Campus, and it does not diminish opportunities for student housing near campus,” Marler said. “It adds a tremendous amount to downtown Missoula.”
Marler said building the college in conjunction with a grand downtown hotel and conference center, along with hospital office space, presents a unique opportunity for the property near Orange and Front streets.
“This is an opportunity for the community to work together to do something that’s not only better than what’s on the table, but we could do something truly, truly exceptional,” said Marler. “We offer this in the spirit of working together.”
Wilson said ASUM Transportation voted unanimously to support building the college downtown. She called it a “brilliant place to build” and a project that could greatly enhance the downtown economy.
Engstrom said the site was carefully considered, but it didn’t fit the university’s vision for the future when compared to the other sites under consideration.
“There isn’t any one thing about that opportunity that makes me think it wasn’t attractive,” Engstrom said. “In the end, that location didn’t hold enough advantage over the other two (sites) we're looking at to decide to go there.”