Missoula to explore redevelopment options for old library site, Midtown parcel

The new Missoula Public Library is set to open around June. The city is expected to issue a request for proposals this month on the old library site, which could be redeveloped into retail, housing and parking. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current file photo)

While the construction of a hotel and events center will begin this year on a parcel of city-owned property in downtown Missoula, the future of other city parcels could be vetted this year.

Among them, the Missoula Public Library is set to open its new facility around June and will vacate the old facility next door, providing a unique opportunity for downtown redevelopment.

The property’s future will be explored over the coming months.

“I certainly have some ideas about use but I’d like the community to weigh in on that,” said Mayor John Engen. “We’d like to at least get the request for proposals out the door this month. It’s a cool opportunity.”

Several years ago, Missoula businessman and philanthropist Terry Payne entered into an agreement with the Missoula Public Library to exchange the 400 block of East Main Street, where the new $36 million library is under construction, for the 300 block, where the existing library sits.

Last April, Payne and his family then donated the 300 block to the city, saying “I have confidence in Mayor Engen and his team to utilize this property in the best interests of the Missoula community.”

While that best use hasn’t been officially identified, the city’s new Downtown Master Plan envisions mixed-use development with retail on the ground floor and housing above.

Engen said the property’s vision should begin taking shape this spring and would receive public input. As it stands, the community already has expressed interest in a public-private partnership that provides housing across a number of income levels, along with business opportunities and parking.

“We’re working with the Missoula Redevelopment Agency on a request for proposals,” Engen said. “I’d like somebody to do a little bit of a public process for us. For me, it’s a foregone conclusion that that structure goes, but maybe it’s not.”

The city also owns 12 acres off Johnson Street in the Midtown area. It purchased the property from Montana Rail Link in 2016 for roughly $2 million and has since redeveloped 5 acres into a popular park.

The remaining 7 acres sits at the property’s north end and has long been eyed for its potential to accommodate housing and retail development. But it will also require environmental remediation, including asbestos removal in a collection of old buildings on the site.

It has contracted the WGM Group to study the task.

“Whether the city sells it to a developer or engages a developer, we don’t have those details yet,” Annette Marchessault of MRA told the Missoula Current in December.

“But the city really wants it to be an example of really good development that has this mixed-income, mixed-use, infill-type development. It’s right in the middle of the city and a good place to showcase that.”

Engen echoed that statement.

“I think in this case we’ll likely do some public input,” he said. “I think there’s a public process that informs an RFP for actual site development on what we’re going to do there.”

The city also is a partner in a housing project planned on two different parcels, the largest being the corner of West Broadway and Mullan Road.

Missoula County donated the parcel last year, and the City Council agreed to issue tax-exempt revenue bonds to help fund the design and construction of an affordable apartment project that will include 202 units when it opens in 2022.

At the same time, the Missoula Economic Partnership is planning an investor showcase this spring, including those in the city’s new opportunity zone. MEP is currently working with the city and other local experts to identify properties that offer the highest potential for development that best meets community needs, including housing.