Hailed as a project that “will change the landscape of downtown Missoula for the better,” the Missoula City Council on Monday unanimously approved a master development agreement for a hotel, convention center, retailers, offices and housing on nearly nine acres along the Clark Fork River. Mayor John Engen led the discussion, countering the criticisms of about a dozen commenters who asked the council to delay its vote until a private citizens’ group negotiated a labor agreement with the Hotel Fox Partners.
Downtown Missoula will be forever changed by the redevelopment of the “hole in the ground” west of the Orange Street Bridge, said the mayor, who remembered watching 25-cent movies at the Fox Theater, buying Swedish Fish at the old SuperAmerica gas station on the corner, and eating dinner at the nearby Mustard Seed restaurant.
The Riverfront Triangle project comes with a $150 million investment in the community, Engen said. The development will provide parks, trails, street connections, a significant amount of parking, retail and office spaces, and housing — in addition to a 200-room hotel and 29,000-square-foot convention center. “Originally, this was going to be one hotel,” he said. “Then came a broader vision of a project that will truly make a difference in the health of our downtown. Now we have a master plan to redevelop about nine acres of core commercial corridor.”
Under the agreement approved Monday, Hotel Fox Partners will build a 200-room, full-service hotel with 10,000 square feet of meeting space atop land now owned by the city of Missoula. The developers will pay the city $2.3 million for the land, a figure based on a recent appraisal. At the city’s request, the development group also will build a 29,000-square-foot conference center, which will then be sold to the city. The city will issue tax increment bonds to buy the conference center, paying the debt by using tax revenue generated by the hotel and conference center.
Hotel Fox will manage the conference center and assume liability for any operating deficits. The partnership also will be responsible for normal maintenance and standard furnishings. The city will be responsible for any major repairs. Below the conference center, Hotel Fox will build two levels of parking with 400 spaces. The city will buy the parking garage, and the Missoula Parking Commission will manage it as public parking to pay off the debt.
Developers see the project as the western bookend to downtown Missoula, with the new Missoula Public Library as the eastern piece. The expanded vision also includes an urban-sized box store, as well as smaller retailers. A blend of housing across a variety of price points also is planned, and an office building will likely be reserved for medical use, given the development’s location across from Providence St. Patrick Hospital and Western Montana Clinic.