Hotel, events center moving toward summer groundbreaking in downtown Missoula

The design of a $100 million hotel and events center planned in downtown Missoula continues to evolve. After final design is complete, the developers expect to break ground in September.

After years of planning and a change in leadership, a local developer plans to start construction on a downtown Missoula hotel and events center in September, setting in motion one of the largest urban infill projects in state history.

Nick Checota with Clark Fork Riverfront Properties detailed the $100 million project and its proposed timeline on Thursday, saying the facility and its many components will be modeled off the nation’s top venues. The developer is receiving no public funding for the privately owned portion of the project.

“We’re confident it will be one of the nicest events centers in the Western United States,” Checota said. “We’re able to start at the ground up, and we’re able to model it after some of the best ones in the country. It’ll be a truly unique overall complex.”

The complex includes roughly seven acres in what’s widely known as the Riverfront Triangle in downtown Missoula. Checota assumed the development rights in October for a piece of the property, where he plans to break ground on the hotel and events center this summer.

As detailed on Thursday, the project will include two levels of underground parking. The hotel lobby and a public food court will occupy the hotel’s first floor, while the second floor will serve as a conference center.

The third floor will include the hotel spa while the next four floors will offer roughly 135 hotel rooms. The top three floors will offer for-sale condominiums. The number of rooms will depend on the market.

“It all depends on what the market wants,” Checota said. “We’re looking at mostly Boomers or empty nesters, people whose kids are just moving out and want to downsize.”

Nick Checota with Clark Fork Riverfront Properties detailed the plans and timeline for the hotel and events center at a meeting of the Missoula Redevelopment Agency on Thursday, Jan. 16, 2020. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current)

The events center, located adjacent to the hotel, will anchor the corner of Orange and Front streets and offer room for up to 5,000 concert goers, making it one of the largest indoor performing arts centers in the state.

Plans for the events center replaced the city’s original plans to develop a larger conference center on the property. A 2015 study by Convention, Sports and Leisure placed the economic impact of a conference center in downtown Missoula at roughly $14 million a year.

But the events center will be used more frequently and will draw larger crowds, amplifying its projected economic impact. Even without the facility, Logjam Presents, owned by Checota, sold 250,000 concert tickets at its other local venues last year, and 45,000 of those were out of market.

Music and entertainment have emerged in recent years as one of Missoula’s largest economies.

“It’ll be significantly more, because we’re moving significantly higher volumes through this facility than a conference would have ever moved through this facility,” Checota said. “You’re looking at 3,000 to 4,000 people four to five times a month at this facility, without even considering the conferences. You’re looking at multiples of economic impact than what you saw with a pure conference center.”

Construction, which is expected to begin with utility work this summer and groundbreaking in September, will last several years and create its share of jobs over that time. When it opens, the hotel and events center will employ around 200 people, Checota said.

All but one firm contracted for the design, engineering and construction of the hotel and events center is based in Missoula, he added.

“We don’t have a single partner on this project that’s not a Montana based company, and we have only one that is not a Missoula based company,” Checota said. “We’re working through our drawing process, which is really about design, development and construction documents, with the building permit going in by Aug. 3 and us hopefully starting construction by Sept. 11.”

The city formalized its agreement with Checota in October after the Farran Group opted to relinquish its development rights for the hotel and focus on the property’s remaining parcels. That work will include a mix of office, retail and housing, along with additional parking.

Plans presented Thursday would see the underground garage encompass roughly half the site, serving multiple portions of the larger development. Checota believes Farran’s redevelopment efforts will progress almost simultaneously with the hotel.

“It really makes an overall great first phase of the district,” Checota said. “It’s the hope that this all happens with Phase 1. There’s a lot of benefits from a construction cost and phasing standpoint.”

Several vacant and dilapidated buildings, along with an underutilized parking lot, make up a portion of the Riverfront Triangle in downtown Missoula. One of the state’s larges urban infill projects is expected to transform the site starting this summer. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current file photo)

While Farran wasn’t at Thursday’s meeting with the Missoula Redevelopment Agency, Jim McLeod told the Missoula Current late last year that a master plan was in the works. MRA believes the plan could be ready soon.

Checota said a local tech company has already signed on to be part of the Riverfront Triangle development. The name of the company hasn’t been disclosed.

“We have a letter of intent in front of us for a 50,000 square-foot tech tenant – a Missoula based company that wants 50,000 square feet for 500 employees,” Checota said. “They’re looking to go into that location. It’ll be great to have a commercial, young and vibrant growing tech company on the other side of this plaza.”

Of all the project’s amenities, Checota said the plaza’s design will punctuate the project and the planning behind it. As proposed, the plaza would offer tiered seating and riverfront views, along with art, a connection to bike trails and outdoor dining.

The developer is funding the plaza, along with utility improvements.

“For us, this is the project,” Checota said. “This plaza is as important as anything. It really activates with the river trail system. We’re going around the country and looking at some of the best plaza designs that we’ve found in urban areas and looking to bring those ideas here.”

MRA said the Montana Department of Transportation was also involved in the project. Along with the developers and the city, the agency is planning to mitigate the increase in traffic expected in and around the development.