The owner of Missoula’s top entertainment venues will assume the development rights for a piece of downtown property, where he plans to begin construction of a long-sought hotel and conference center next summer.
But rather than a conference center as proposed in years past, Nick Checota plans to construct an events center large enough for 6,000 guests.
“Instead of a pure conference center, we’re expanding it to be more of an events center,” Checota told the Missoula Current on Monday. “Missoula doesn’t have the purpose-built place to do large events. So we’re taking the conference center as it was envisioned originally and moving it more toward an events center.”
The City Council approved a master agreement in 2017, formalizing its partnership with Hotel Fox Partners. The agreement included plans to build a seven-story, 195-room hotel with restaurants and other amenities, along with a conference center, parking garage and condos.
Under an amended agreement, Checota will assume the development rights for the property and continue the project as planned. The City Council will formalize the agreement this week.
“Hotel Fox Partners is assigning us the development rights for the Fox site,” Checota said. “We’re going to take the hotel, conference center, condos and the 400-stall parking garage.”
Checota placed the cost of the project at roughly $100 million and expects construction to begin next summer. The hotel will include around 180 rooms and a separate events space for traditional needs, along with a 60,000-square-foot events space for shows.
The hotel will also include two restaurants and a wellness center.
“It’s just a huge opportunity to have a transformational project in downtown Missoula,” Checota said. “We’ll need somewhere in the neighborhood of $15 million to $20 million of equity. We’re going to put in a portion of that. There’s plenty of ways to raise equity, but our first choice is to work locally. My goal is put together a local investor group.”
By forgoing the Fox site, Farran Realty Partners will turn its attention to developing the rest of the Riverfront Triangle. The property comprises roughly 7 acres at the corner of Orange Street and West Broadway.
“We see this project as a transformational project for Missoula,” said Jim McLeod of the Farran Group. “The development not only establishes an arts and cultural center on the river, but will serve as an economic engine for all of downtown.”
Under the agreement, Checota plans to include condos on the upper floor of the hotel, along with a parking structure located below the hotel. He said the hotel and restaurants will be locally owned and operated.
“Instead of going with a chain, we’re going with an independent hotel concept that’s 100 percent locally owned and locally operated with no national branding associated with it,” Checota said. “Both restaurants will be locally owned as well.”
The condos will be privately owned once sold.
Checota, who developed the Top Hat, the Wilma and Kettlehouse Amphitheater and turned them into major attractions, believes the addition of a downtown events center will have a significant impact on the local economy.
While the conference center as first proposed would likely attract 500 guests to a handful of conferences each month, the event center could attract 5,000 people to several monthly events, including travelling Broadway shows, ballet and music.
“We’re looking at two to four events per month, so you’re looking at something like 15,000 people rather than 1,200,” he said. “That’s a lot of people coming downtown and staying in hotels. It gives this city a civic enter, where we can do these kinds of events.”
A study conducted by the national planning firm Conventions Sports and Leisure in 2015 estimated that a Missoula conference center alone would bring $14 million in direct economic impact to the community each year.
The city believes the events space will increase that figure, boosting local businesses.
“The new facility will create a cultural civic center for the Missoula community, as well as serve as a destination venue for a broader regional audience,” Missoula Mayor John Engen said. “There’s no other facility in the region that can successfully accommodate this range of events. It will continue to expand Missoula’s growing reputation as a cultural hub in the Northwest.”
The City Council in May approved a 12-month extension to its original development agreement with Hotel Fox Partners, giving the group more time to complete the financing and design of the hotel and conference center.
Under the amended agreement, however, Farran will focus on the redevelopment of the Riverfront Triangle while Checota undertakes the development of the hotel and events center. He said the project will be designed to play off the Clark Fork River.
“The site provides a unique opportunity for Missoula to have a development that faces and integrates with the river and river trail system,” he said. “Too often in the past, the river has been ignored by downtown developments. We see the Clark Fork as the front door of this project, creating a civic space that strongly relates to the natural beauty of our community.”