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City approves contract to begin master planning West Broadway corridor

A file photo shows the western stretch of West Broadway, part of which sits in both an urban renewal district and an opportunity zone. The city will create a new master plan for the corridor that accounts for city ownership of several large properties, including the Missoula Water building and the Sleepy Inn. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current file)

The city will amend its new downtown master plan to take a bigger look at the West Broadway corridor and how to redevelop a number of city-owned properties to meet a range of community needs.

The $65,000 plan, approved Monday by the Missoula Redevelopment Agency’s board of commissioners, could also lay the foundation for future partnerships between the city and any private developer who may be interested in investing in the area.

“Many of those buildings are in desperate need of renovation, upgrade and redevelopment,” said MRA board member Tasha Jones. “It allows us to be prepared to assist private investors and partners when the opportunity presents itself for redevelopment in this area.”

The corridor lies within the boundaries of both an urban renewal district and an opportunity zone. That makes it prime for a number of incentives, including tax increment financing and the advantages offered in an opportunity zone.

Such zones were included in the Federal Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 to encourage long-term private investment in low-income communities. The program itself provides a tax incentive to those who invest in opportunity funds.

“Those are two powerful tools to entice private development, because there are incentives through TIF and tax advantages through the use of the opportunity zone,” said MRA Director Ellen Buchanan. “The clock is ticking. It’s one of the reasons to get this process started.”

The city acquired the Mountain Water building on West Broadway several years ago when it purchased the utility. The city this month also purchased property off Scott Street, which could allow Public Works to leave the water building for its new Scott Street location, thus making the water building available for redevelopment.

The city earlier this year also purchased the Sleepy Inn with an eye on future redevelopment. The property sits on West Broadway not far from the water building. A number of properties that sit in between are either on the market or have owners willing to sell.

Add it up and the corridor is ripe for new investment, revitalization and change.

“There are number of properties in the area that are on the market currently, or could be purchased by private developers or by the city,” Buchanan said. “The downtown master plan paid some attention to the West Broadway area, but a lot has changed since that plan was done.”

An older master plan for a portion of the West Broadway corridor. The city said much has changed since the last downtown master plan was completed, requiring the update approved on Monday.

The city purchased the Sleepy Inn with the short-term goal of using it as a non-congregant shelter for the homeless or at risk population during the COVID-19 pandemic.

While no one knows how long the shelter will be needed – or how long the federal government will pay for its operation – the city is looking to develop plans now so that it’s prepared to capitalize off a redevelopment opportunity down the road.

Dover, Kohl and Partners expects to have the West Broadway plan finished in six to nine months. Once completed, it would serve as a blueprint for future redevelopment and offer area property owners a sense of ease given the predictability that’s in it.

“We can create a compelling and interesting vision,” said consultant Jason King. “The thing would largely implement itself, and it would be true to the vision of the many hands working on the project.”

The opportunities present in the West Broadway corridor are due in part to a new city strategy that looks to bank land to meet a number of goals. While the master planning process will flesh those out over time, they will likely include some form of mixed-use development that includes housing and commercial offerings.

Owning the properties also gives the city a say in how the properties are redeveloped, and whether any housing is deemed affordable or market rate, and at what mix. It also gives surrounding residents a say in the process.

“We don’t know how much longer that hotel will be needed for the purpose it’s serving right now,” said Buchanan. “If we know where we want to go, once that need no longer exists, we’ll have done the public input process, and we’ll have gone through a planning process that gives us a road map to begin talking to investors and developers who might want to invest in this area.”

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