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City grants Hotel Fox project extension to finalize function, design

Dieter Huckestein, a member of Hotel Fox Partners, presents the conceptual plans for seven acres of property in downtown Missoula during a Missoula Redevelopment Agency meeting earlier this year. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current)

It’s not quite ready for prime time, but it’s getting close.

Members of the Missoula City Council on Wednesday granted the Missoula Redevelopment Agency and Hotel Fox Partners an additional 90 days to finish plans related to the design and function of a multimillion-dollar project slated for the Riverfront Triangle downtown.

The plan, which includes a 200-room hotel and conference center, a parking structure, housing, retail and office space, has been in the works for years. A master development agreement was signed by the parties to move the project forward and approved by the city in February.

Chris Behan, assistant director of the Missoula Redevelopment Agency, said the master agreement directed all parties to finalize a number of underlying agreements to bring the project across the finish line.

Known as collateral agreements, they cover land disposition, condominium documents and lease arrangements, as well as agreements covering the project’s marquee features – the hotel and conference center and a 400-stall parking structure.

Those collateral agreements, which were expected by Aug. 22, hinge on the project’s final design. That aspect isn’t quite ready, Behan said, and it prompted the project’s backers to seek more time.

“We’ve been working really hard on this, but what we found out was there’s a very deep relationship between design and programming,” said Behan. “All of that depends on design, and design takes a long time. We didn’t realize how close a relationship that was.”

While the effort is moving forward, Behan said, design elements and the overall function of the 7-acre development necessitated a 90-day extension. The master agreement allows for the extension, though it does not allow for anything past that date, Behan said.

Hotel Fox Partners and the Missoula Redevelopment Agency believe the collateral agreements will be ready well before the 90-day extension expires.

“A lot of work has gone on with all the development agreements, and they’re nearing completion,” Behan said. “But we need to plug in all the key elements on how all those things are tied together and how they’ll work.”

Under the terms of the master agreement, Hotel Fox Partners will purchase a parcel of city-owned property in the Riverfront Triangle for $2.3 million, where it will build a 200-room hotel and a 29,000-square-foot conference center atop two levels of structured parking.

Once the project is finished, the city will purchase the conference center and parking garage from the developer for $6.5 million and $8.8 million, respectively. The city would pay the debt using new tax revenues and parking dues generated by the facilities.

The agreement will also see Hotel Fox manage the conference center and assume the liability for any operating deficits. Hotel Fox would also conduct standard maintenance and standard furnishings. The city would be responsible for any major repairs.

Ward 6 council member Michelle Cares said she was surprised that MRA had not considered the relationship between the collateral agreements and the project’s design, though she voted to grant the 90-day extension.

Ward 1 council member Bryan von Lossberg and Ward 3 council member Gwen Jones, who both sit on the committee guiding the Riverfront project to completion, also approved the extension.

“A huge amount of work has been done, though it’s not quite ready to be rolled out for prime time,” said Jones. “You don’t want to do it too early because it will slow down the process. But I can tell you, we’re light years beyond where any other developer has ever gotten in terms of addressing this development. We need to sit tight and let them finish their work.”