Missoula Mayor John Engen on Monday offered insight into the city’s vision for a block of property in downtown Missoula donated earlier this month by local philanthropist Terry Payne and his family.
Payne approached Engen in January about gifting the 300 block of East Main Street to the city in a no-strings-attached offer. Now, Engen said, the city has begun to explore its options, though the makings of a vision have already emerged.
“We’ll make sure we have housing for people who can live in a penthouse, and for people who can’t make it work today,” Engen said. “We’ll have opportunities for businesses to thrive and grow over time. We’ll make sure there are places for cars, because as it turns out, parking still matters.”
The city announced the gift on April 1 and quickly labeled it an unexpected opportunity. A new Missoula Public Library is under construction one block east, and once it opens next year, the old public library will likely come down.
The opportunity to redevelop an entire city block in a growing stretch of downtown Missoula doesn’t come along very often, Engen said.
“It’s a gift we can’t waste,” Engen said. “We’ll make sure there’s retail opportunities. We’ll make the best of that block, and that block will be a model of what we can do throughout downtown Missoula.”
The city is expected to engage in public discussions about the property’s future before issuing a request for proposals from potential developers willing and able to carry out the city’s vision.
A similar arrangement was made several years ago for the Riverfront Triangle, where plans for a hotel and conference center are in the works. That project, spread across seven acres, also includes public parking, housing, office and retail components.
But exactly when that project is slated to break ground remains unknown, though city leaders said it’s their belief that it’s still alive. The developers have invested hundreds of thousands of dollars into the effort already, and a final design is still expected.
Across Broadway, the city and Missoula County have also made a move on the mostly vacant federal building. Last month, the two local governments sent a letter to the Denver region of the General Services Administration expressing interest in using the vacant building for free under the Good Neighbor program administered by the federal agency.
The building includes 90,000 square feet and would allow the city and county to consolidate various services under a single roof. As it stands, city and county government offices are spread across various locations.
“Missoula County and I believe we can do something better for that building than let it echo,” Engen said. “We feel we can fill it with life, create opportunity and better serve the people we swore and are committed to serve.”