After more testing, soil sample at downtown Hotel Fox site deemed acceptable

An artist’s rendering of the $80 million hotel and conference center planned on the Fox site in downtown Missoula, where additional testing was required to give the property a clean bill of health before it’s sold.

The Missoula Redevelopment Agency on Thursday agreed to reimburse a group of developers for the cost of completing additional environmental testing needed to give a parcel of city-owned property a clean bill of health before it’s sold and transferred.

The $13,500 approval, granted by MRA’s board of directors, marks the second reimbursement given to Hotel Fox Partners related to environment testing at the Fox site in downtown Missoula, where the developers plan to build an $80 million hotel and conference center.

“If you recall from the millsite redevelopment project, paper ended up costing almost as much as the removal of contaminated soils,” said Chris Behan, assistant MRA director. “In this case, it’s just a matter of the work they’ve got to do to move on. A good portion of it was retesting those samples that didn’t come out right the first time.”

Back in October, MRA approved a $12,000 reimbursement for Hotel Fox Partners regarding soil testing at the property. While that phase of work was required by the city to assure the buyers, lenders and investors that the site was clean, five samples came back with abnormal readings, requiring additional work.

Behan said additional testing determined four of the sites were clean while the fifth, located on the property’s eastern edge, remained slightly above acceptable levels.

While the Montana Department of Environmental Quality analyzed that sample and has since determined that it didn’t warrant additional remedy, the process did generate additional paperwork, prompting MRA to cover the added expense.

“DEQ is indicating they would just assume move on, and the water quality bureau agrees with that assessment,” Behan said. “But to get to that point, we had to do a lot more reporting, and we’ll have to complete those reports before we get the letter closing the file.”

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

That history made it difficult to redevelop, and with interest strong among developers looking to purchase the site, MRA removed 23,000 cubic yards of rubbish and scraped the parcel down to its native soils.

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

“We were pretty darn sure there was nothing on this site,” Behan said. “We’re still not really sure what gave us this elevated reading.”

Behan suggested it may have resulted from a piece of heavy equipment.

MRA expects the the environmental work to be completed soon and the property ready to transfer to Hotel Fox Partners. Starting next year, the developers plan to break ground on a seven-story hotel and 60,000-square-foot conference center.

Three additional floors will include condominiums and the entire project will sit atop of a 405-stall parking garage. The project represents the one of the largest single projects to land in downtown Missoula, and represents the first of many phases to follow.

“This is a very favorable outcome,” said MRA board member Natasha Jones. “They could have asked to do a lot more testing and work, and we’d be asking for more than $13,500 to reimburse them.”