City to reimburse Hotel Fox developers for downtown soil testing ahead of construction

The Missoula Redevelopment Agency will reimburse Hotel Fox Partners for the cost of testing the soils on a property that will soon house a hotel and conference center in downtown Missoula, pictured above.

The Missoula Redevelopment Agency’s Board of Directors on Thursday agreed to reimburse a team of developers for the cost of testing soils on a piece of city property reserved for construction of a downtown hotel and conference center.

The board passed the $12,000 reimbursement without objection, saying it was the obligation of the city to ensure the property was clean before Hotel Fox Partners took possession and began construction of the multi-million dollar facility.

“It’s our responsibility to show this has been cleaned properly,” said board chair Karl Englund. “Given how the preliminary situation is that they’re going to pay the appraised value for it, it’s appropriate to be able to tell them that it appears to be clean.”

The city acquired the collection of properties on Front and Orange streets between 1984 and 2001. After excavating the buildings and aggregating the parcels, they found the site had served as an unofficial landfill dating back to 1894.

Its history as a landfill made it difficult to redevelop the property, and with interest in the site strong, MRA removed 23,000 cubic yards of rubbish and materials and scraped the parcel down to its native soils.

The material was replaced with clean fill excavated from the University of Montana campus.

“The material that was placed in the excavated hole was for the most part from a site that had never been excavated and had never been built on from the university where the School of Journalism is now,” said Chris Behan, assistant director of the MRA. “That was brought in, compacted and it worked well.”

Behan said that because soil-testing results are only good for six months to a year, the city opted to hold off on testing back in 2005 until the property was ready for sale or transfer.

That time has now come, he said.

“It’s time now to do that and be able to show that our site is developable from an environmental point of view, and if there is a problem, we can identify it,” Behan said.

For much of the past year, the city and Hotel Fox Partners have been negotiating the details surrounding the managing and leasing of a conference center to be constructed on the property, along with a parking facility.

The developers have said they expect to begin construction next year.

“If their investors want more data, more drilling, that would be up to them,” Behan said. “We’d hope they accept the test results by the end of this year.”