Fairgrounds looks to begin $1.15M trail plan by June; connect to Midtown

Missoula County will foot the initial bill to connect the fairgrounds to the Midtown district with a network of trails, though the work will be reimbursed with tax increment financing once it’s finished next year.

The Missoula Redevelopment Agency”s board of directors cleared the project for $1.15 million in tax increment financing last April. The City Council must approved the revenue bond that will ultimately fund it.

“We’re 99 percent sure we’ll issue bonds for an amount this large instead of paying it out of cash and depleting the district,” said Ellen Buchanan, director of the Missoula Redevelopment Agency. “Once the work is complete and given whatever sign offs are required, we’ll reimburse the county based upon invoices, proof of payment and lien waivers.”

The project will complete a network of commuter trails across the fairgrounds, better connecting it to the Midtown district while eliminating the barriers the property has posed to pedestrians and cyclists.

Of the three segments, one will bisect the fairground itself between Fairview and Stephens avenues. The other two segments would connect South Avenue to Playfair Park and cross the property’s southern boundary.

Other members of the agreement include the YMCA and Missoula County Public Schools, according to Emily Brock, director of the fairgrounds.

“All of this is part of a broader agreement with the city to reimburse the county for the cost of the trails,” Brock said. “Just because its two different bridges of local government, the processes are different.”

Brock hopes to have the interlocal agreement signed by May, along with City Council approval for the required bond. Once the bond is issued, it will be up to the county to find a buyer.

“If we initiate a project like rebuilding a street, we (MRA) put it out for a competitive bid and see who wants to buy the bonds,” said Buchanan. “When we have an applicant come to us wanting to do a project and it’s big enough to issue bonds, we ask them to bring us a buyer.”

Brock said the work could begin this June.

“We’re out to bid now with the trials, which is great,” she said. “When we finish this first portion of the project, we won’t be able to get reimbursed by MRA because we won’t have finished connecting the Fairway Trail. That piece will happen when we finish Fairway Plaza (next year).”