Missoula real estate company hones focus as interest in commercial investments soars

Members of Sterling CRE Advisors in Missoula are gearing up for their second annual Market Watch, a data-driven analysis of the local market. Interest in Missoula’s commercial real estate market has swelled in the past year. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current)

The number of calls to an expanding commercial real estate company in Missoula are picking up, as developers and businesses look to the Garden City for new investment opportunities.

Members of Sterling CRE Advisors, formerly Montana CRE, said interest in the city’s investment properties has grown over the past year, driven in part by the local economy and other large-scale projects that have or will soon come online.

“We get calls from across the country trying to get a feel for what drives the local economy, how much money is being invested in the economy through new investments coming in or the developments being done,” said Matt Mellott, an adviser with the company. “In the last year, those calls have increased.”

With investment interest on the rise, Sterling CRE is gearing up for its second annual Market Watch, offering a deep dive into the data sought by companies looking to Missoula for the next opportunity.

The information was compiled on the Missoula market for the first time last year, primarily to benefit Sterling’s clients. But the local interest was also stronger than anticipated, and the data has since been used by a number of local organizations with a similar eye on the economy.

“I think people had perceptions of what’s a good place to invest money, what’s in demand or supply, and that information didn’t necessarily match up with what the reality was, based on the data that was collected,” said Mellott. “Whether it’s a tenant occupying real estate or someone looking to invest, it’s really difficult to make wise decisions if you don’t have the right information.”

The information compiled last year, coupled with the feedback received from the business community, will add depth to the second batch of data, which is scheduled for release this March.

Last year’s information was broken down by categories, though this year, Mellott said, it will include a number of submarkets, including the downtown district, Midtown and the airport.

“Missoula is a tiny market and you also have these submarkets, so we want to give additional information on that more specifically,” Mellott said. “It’s helpful for investors and for people out of town looking to develop or invest money in Missoula.”

Over the past year, Missoula has seen a number of significant commercial projects break ground, including the Mercantile hotel and the student housing project in downtown Missoula.

Efforts are also underway at Missoula International Airport to expand the city’s light manufacturing capacity, along with a multi-phase expansion of the airport’s passenger terminal. A seven-acre infill project on the Riverfront Triangle in downtown Missoula, is also planned.

While such projects create jobs and expand the city’s tax base, they also gain national attention, placing Missoula on the radar of businesses looking for the next opportunity. The volley of activity has attracted new companies looking to capitalize off the city’s economy, its workforce and growth, such as ClassPass, which opened its third North American office in Missoula this month.

“All this activity catches the attention of bigger builders, so you have bigger builders looking to Missoula,” Mellott said. “It seems like a snowball effect, where each project you hear about is bigger than the last, whether it’s mixed use downtown or industrial projects out by the airport.”

How it all pieces together and where the opportunities lie has been something of a guessing game in past years, though that strategy is changing along with local expectations.

Claire Matten, a commercial adviser with the company, said such information is available in larger cities, often provided through third-party services. Providing accurate and timely information on the local market brings new economic opportunities to Missoula.

“The level of sophistication in commercial real estate is increasing, and there’s a need for professional individuals in this market,” said Matten. “It’s really awesome to see the level Missoula is growing to and the companies that want to be here, and the individuals who want to move here.”

Up until a few months ago, Sterling CRE was known as Montana CRE. But as the company grew and the calls increased, along with its regional focus, Mellott felt the name change was in order.

A former fighter pilot in the Marine Corps, he took the name Sterling from a Marine Corps friend who perished in a jet crash two years ago. Along the way, he compiled a team of experts, each with experience working commercial real estate in larger metros, including Atlanta, Phoenix and South Florida.

“We’re all very connected and committed to Missoula, but you have expertise from these huge markets you can bring and apply to a smaller market to up the level of service provided to investors and tenants,” Mellott said. “The more focused you are, the more of an expert you are in that field, and more value you provide to people.”