A team of local developers plan to construct 132 units of housing off South Avenue and the Missoula County Fairgrounds and reserve 20% of the rental units as affordable housing, according to plans presented Thursday.

The $30 million project, proposed by Casa Loma LLC, will also include 19,000 square feet of commercial space and add to the transformation of the Midtown district as advocates work to make it a more walkable and livable neighborhood.

The project would generate roughly $280,000 in annual property taxes, according to city estimates.

“We're looking at a pretty significant infill development,” said project partner Jeff Smith of WGM Group. “Having the chance to redevelop an entire city block is a rare opportunity. This project also includes a meaningful mixed-use component.”

To aid in the project, the Missoula Redevelopment Agency's board of commissioners on Thursday approved the project's request for $2.2 million in tax increment. The funding will cover improvements to the public right of way, such as sidewalks and a cycle track, and help fund the deconstruction of an empty structure.

But the assistance is contingent upon a number of other issues that must be addressed before the project becomes a reality. Among them, Casa Loma must secure right of way from the Missoula County Fairgrounds and ask the city to vacate a sliver of Sussex Avenue, which bisects the property.

Without the vacation of Sussex, the property would be difficult to develop and would include just a fraction of the housing units proposed.

“Triangular properties are hard to develop,” said Smith. “This plan almost triples the number of residential units at the site and the mixed-use component becomes really possible.”

Project site plans and surrounding infrastructure.
Project site plans and surrounding infrastructure.

Casa Loma includes Kelly Gill and Nate Richmond, who are also members of Blueline Development. Blueline is building a number of other housing projects around Missoula, each with an element of affordability, including the Villagio and Trinity apartments.

The South Avenue project will include 132 units of housing, with 20% of them dedicated to individuals earning 80% of the area median income. Doing so reduces the property's annual operating revenue by $200,000 but is a principal the company believes in, they said.

The other units will be leased for 120% of the median income – still below the market rate. Rents would range from $1,225 to $1,698 depending on the number rooms. Plans also call for around 28 units to be offered for sale, placing them between the low $300,000s to mid $400,000s.

“Casa Loma will do this entire project and be reimbursed for the right-of-way improvements once the project is completed and they have a certificate of occupancy for those buildings,” said MRA Director Ellen Buchanan. “It's our typical way of doing those projects.”

The project will deliver a roundabout to the intersection of Stephens and South avenues, as well as sidewalks and a two-way cycle track for bicycles. Brooks Street runs just blocks away, where the city plans to create a Bus Rapid Transit system.

City transportation planners are working with developers to ensure the road and trail improvements gel with other city plans for the area, including a greenway for bike travel.

“We've worked with the project team on evaluating the different design elements and how we're providing the right level of transportation facilities,” said transportation planner Aaron Wilson. “It will have to go through all the engineering stage review to make sure it's meeting our standards and that we're getting the right transportation mix.”