Demolition of old hotel begins to make room for supersized car wash

Demolition of the Howard Johnson Inn off Brooks Street is underway as an Eagle, Idaho developer gears up to build a Metro Express Car Wash. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current)

The Howard Johnson Inn off Brooks Street was reduced to a pile of rubble on Thursday as crews work to clear the site for construction of a Metro Express Car Wash.

The motel, located at 3530 Brooks Street, has sat vacant for much of the past year and had fallen into a state of disrepair.

Despite opposition from the Southgate Neighborhood Council and other local businesses and residents, the Missoula City Council approved the Eagle, Idaho, developer’s request to construct the car wash on a 9-2 vote.

Ben Martin, the developer, couldn’t be reached this week for comment, though in January he detailed plans to build a car wash with three stacking lanes and 25 vacuum stalls. Once completed, the facility will be the largest in the city.

“We consider ourselves a green business – we recycle all of our water,” Martin told the city. “We’re interested and eager to be a part of the Missoula community, and we think this project is a good fit. We pride ourselves on long-term employment and good day jobs for our staff.”

Martin described his firm as a family business which runs similar car washes in Idaho and Colorado. The project is valued at roughly $8.5 million and would, according to Martin, provide roughly 12 jobs with a starting wage of $13 to $14 an hour.

Supporters, including the ward’s City Council representative, approved Martin’s request for a conditional use permit and praised the wages he pledged to pay once the facility opened.

Yet opponents, which included neighborhood leaders and others with an eye on the future of the Midtown district, said the project fails to the meet the goals of the Brooks Street corridor, which strives for greater density and mixed-use development over the single-use design that currently dominates the corridor.

Over the past few years, the Missoula Redevelopment Agency has invested millions of dollars in tax increment financing to diversify the corridor’s uses and move it away from its current dependence on the automobile.

Plans are also in the works to guide development throughout the corridor.

“Great effort has been made by Midtown stakeholders to redefine the nature of the Brooks corridor,” the Missoula Midtown Association wrote in opposition of the project. “This single-use, industrial facility as proposed does not support that vision.”

The car wash is expected to open in early 2018.